Portland officials on Thursday will begin recounting by hand more than 39,000 ballots cast this month on a citizen referendum initiative that could prohibit unhosted short-term rentals in Maine’s largest city.

Voters rejected the initiative by a margin of 222 votes.

The recount will take place at the Portland Expo beginning at 9 a.m., and the city will broadcast a live stream of the recount through a link on the city calendar.

City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin said in a news release that the clerk’s office and proponents of the measure will each have more than 10 people working to recount the ballots by hand. She predicted it would take three full days, at an estimated cost of $15,000 to the city, to conduct the recount.

Question E: An Act to Restrict Short-Term Rentals in Portland was defeated by less than one percentage point.

People First Portland, a political committee organized by the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America that placed the question on the ballot, collected 100 signatures from registered voters to force a recount. The narrow vote margin allows proponents to request a recount without having to pay for it, according to state law.

People First Portland submitted the signatures only after the city twice revised the final vote total.

The city discovered and corrected a data entry error the day after the Nov. 3 election that initially showed the measure being defeated by more than 2,000 votes. After the revision, the measure was defeated by 235 votes, but that total was again revised downward during the certification process.

The initiative would prohibit unhosted, or non-owner- and tenant-occupied short-term rentals, which currently account for about half the total short-term rentals in the city. Unhosted short-term rentals are currently capped at 400 on the mainland.

The initiative would also increase the registration fee from $100 for the first unit to $1,000 a unit for every mainland short-term rental, and from $100 to $400 for those on the islands.

It would also strengthen enforcement. People operating unregistered short-term rentals would be subject to an initial fine of $1,000, plus an additional $1,500 for every day the rental remains unregistered. Other ordinance violations would come with a $1,000 a day fine.

Question E was the only citizen referendum that was not approved by voters. It was one of five referendum questions placed on the ballot by People First Portland, which successfully passed initiatives to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, plus hazard pay, in the coming years; ban the use of facial recognition software by public officials; implement a “Green New Deal for Portland”; and institute rent control and other tenant protections.

Voters also approved an initiative to remove a 20-store cap on marijuana retail establishments and allow stores to be closer together (100 feet as opposed to 250.) That referendum was placed on the ballot by advocate David Boyer.


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