There are a lot of ideas for reforming the process by which referendum questions are put on the ballot, and many of them are controversial.

This one shouldn’t be.

Question 2 on the Nov. 5 statewide ballot would change the state constitution to allow Mainers with disabilities to use an “alternative signature” to sign petitions for citizen initiatives and people’s vetoes.

Maine voters who have difficulties using their hands can already use alternative signatures — either through a ink stamp or a registered proxy — to register to vote, declare a political party affiliation or sign nomination papers. Approving Question 2 would allow them to use such signatures to sign petitions putting citizen’s initiatives and people’s vetoes on the ballot.

A constitutional amendment is necessary because the Maine Constitution says a “written petition” such as the ones used to collect signatures for referendums must use the “original signatures of the petitioners.” As a result, when alternative signatures appear on petitions, they are not counted.

Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, put in the bill that led to Question 2 after consulting with the Secretary of State’s Office, which is in favor of passing the amendment.

White said Maine elections stand out favorably for their low barriers to participation. Allowing the use of alternative signatures for Mainers with difficulties arising from disabilities, such as those through spinal cord injuries or Parkinson’s disease,  is just another step in that direction.

“This legislation represents a united front in our shared desire to fully integrate the participation of all citizens in the mechanics of our democracy,” White wrote in testimony to a legislative committee in April.

Speaking to the Bangor Daily News, Richard Langley, the deputy director of Disability Rights Maine, said his group has not heard of specific cases where the signature problem has come up, but said it is important to ensure that every voter has access to the voting process.

He’s right — Question 2 solves a small problem, but an important one. Everyone should have full access to the democratic process, and any undue barrier to any voter is an affront to a free and fair electoral system.

Langley also correctly points out that not all Maine voting sites, many of them in old town halls, are fully accessible to the people with disabilities. Election clerks and local officials should take a close look at their sites to make sure that difficulty with physical access to the polls is not discouraging any voters from exercising their constitutional rights.

And in the upcoming election, Mainers should vote “yes” on Question 2 — and help the state get a step closer in making sure everyone is able to fully participate in our democracy.


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