The Maine Secretary of State is allowing Portland to send copies of six ordinance proposals to absentee voters rather than printing them on the ballot itself.

While some argued that including only summaries on the ballot could be misleading, activists supporting the proposals argued that printing entire ordinances on the ballots would amount to voter suppression.

Portland’s city code requires the full ordinance language on the ballot for all citizen initiatives, unless it is deemed unreasonable by the city clerk, who recommended printing only the summaries. But councilors and others worried that the summaries, originally drafted by proponents, were meant to persuade voters and did not contain enough information about the proposals.

Unlike the state, Portland does not have a revisor’s office responsible for drafting neutral ballot summaries for citizens initiatives.

Printing the full ordinance language on the ballot would have resulted in a 14-page ballot – seven, two-sided pages – that absentee voters would have to mail back to the city.

Councilors on Monday directed the clerk to ask the state whether the full ordinance proposals could be sent along with absentee ballots, possibly on a different colored sheet of paper that would not need to be returned to the city. They directed the clerk to print the entire proposals on the ballot if printing them separately isn’t possible, with the city paying the return postage to ensure the ballots made it back to City Hall to be counted.


City Clerk Katherine Jones said Wednesday that the state informed the city Tuesday that proposals could be included with absentee ballots, without appearing on the ballot itself. The ballot, which may fit on one page, will contain summaries that were amended by the council to remove any persuasive language and add some details about each question.

The full ordinance language will also be available to people voting in person.

Five of the citizen initiatives are being put forward by People First Portland, a campaign being run by the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America, and the sixth is being put forward by the No Cannabis Cap campaign.

People First Portland has separate referendums to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour; further restrict short-term rentals; ban facial surveillance technology by public officials; a slate of proposals to protect tenants by, among other things, limiting rent increases; and enacting a New Green Deal for Portland that would increase energy efficiency standards and require higher wages for projects that receive $50,000 or more in public funding.

The No Cannabis Cap would eliminate the 20-establishment limit on recreational and medical marijuana retail stores in the city.

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