In a lawsuit currently before Superior Court Justice Robert Murray in Ellsworth, complainant Sam Dunlap, through his attorney Arthur Greif, argues that the town of Bar Harbor made a mistake when it applied a two-thirds-majority threshold for passage of a zoning amendment brought by citizen petition. There clearly is some confusion in the current regulations that require a two-thirds majority for ballot articles floated by the Planning Board, Town Council or planning department officials. Even less clear is the required margin for articles submitted by petition. Regardless of which side benefits from Murray’s decision, the clarity provided by the court will be welcome.
A side issue to the majority question, however, is the town’s practice of printing recommendations by official bodies directly on the ballot. Those recommendations also are included on the town meeting warrant handed to voters at open town meetings. When applicable, voters are told the Town Council’s position, the Warrant Committee’s position and, on zoning questions, the Planning Board’s position. Providing town agencies the power to persuade voters, to whisper in their ears at the moment of casting a ballot, if you will, seems an unfair advantage for vested interests.
Maine state law holds that no electioneering, such as signs, demonstrations, etc., is allowed within 250 feet of a polling place.
The law states, “On public property within 250 feet of the entrance to the voting place as well as within the voting place itself, a person may not influence another person’s decision regarding a candidate or question that is on the ballot for the election that day; or attempt to influence another person’s decision regarding a candidate or question that is on the ballot for the election that day.”
Candidates visiting voting places may greet voters but cannot solicit their support.
Why, then, are these local statements, basically political opinions, allowed on the ballot? And if the practice continues, why are opponents not permitted equal exposure?
There are ample avenues for people on all sides of political issues, including town agencies and officials, to make their ballot issue positions known to the public. Let’s simplify local ballots and election documents to remove all traces of electioneering.