Lawmakers on dangerous ground when they ignore voters

Voters are getting pummeled in the Legislature.

Last year, the stalemate on important issues caused by a hothead of a governor and a divided Legislature led voters to take matters into their own hands.

In a crowded November ballot, they passed four of five citizens’ initiatives.

Voters said yes to legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage and phasing out the tip credit, placing a surcharge on high-income earners, and changing the way votes are tallied in elections for federal and state offices.

One by one, the Legislature has set to work to change, derail or muddle what the voters say they wanted.

Voters stand in line to pick up their ballots at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Nov. 8. Gabor Degre | BDN


In the most recent example, some members of the Legislature essentially sued the voters, taking a challenge of ranked-choice voting to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and asking for an advisory opinion about the constitutionality of the voting change.

In a lengthy advisory opinion, the court found that the RCV law is unconstitutional in regards to elections for governor and for the state Legislature.

The opinion was prompted by opponents of ranked-choice voting who were unsuccessful in their efforts to defeat the measure at the ballot box last November.

Here are the facts as they stand today in regards to ranked-choice voting. The law, as passed by voters, is still on the books. The advisory opinion didn’t change that.

Additionally, elements of the law, including establishing ranked-choice voting in federal elections were not touched by the court’s ruling and are presumed to be constitutional.

Now, the Legislature must act. And until it acts, the law stands as it was passed.

State Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, says that she will introduce a constitutional amendment to ensure that ranked-choice voting can be implemented for state elections.

But it’ll take a two-thirds majority in both the Maine House and the Senate to send that question to voters in November. Republicans, including House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, have already said they won’t support amending the constitution.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling was unanimous and straightforward, but that doesn’t mean that it was the correct decision.

Set in motion by a handful of lawmakers who didn’t agree with the outcome of the election, the advisory opinion now gives them the argument they needed to try to block all elements of law – even those parts that can withstand scrutiny, such as implementing ranked-choice voting just for federal offices and party primaries.

Already, the argument is being made that voters aren’t smart enough to figure out different voting methods for different laws so the whole thing should be scrapped.

In fact, this notion that voters don’t know what they voted for and couldn’t figure it out keeps coming up. It’s been used to justify the fight against raising the minimum wage for tipped workers, to try to block the 3 percent surtax on earners making above $200,000, to slow and muddle the implementation of marijuana legalization and now to try to derail ranked-choice voting.

Now, lump this in with Gov. Paul LePage’s willingness to block the issuance of voter-approved bonds and with legislative efforts to block future citizens’ initiatives, and the message is clear.

Voters don’t matter.

In 2014 and 2016, voters reacted to a system that they believe is stacked against them, where their voices aren’t heard, where people like them don’t matter.

They were angry and they lashed out. They voted for a man for president who is so deeply flawed that in less than six months in office there are real questions about whether he will be able to complete his term.

A liar and provocateur, a generally nasty person unfit to serve, President Donald Trump somehow appeared to be the only way to change a system that seems to empower and enrich the few at the expense of the many.

Voters also spoke loudly about important issues that they decided needed fixing, frustrated with the lack of progress from elected leaders.

Regardless of whether you agree with the ballot initiatives that passed last year or the bonds that voters have endorsed, the voters decided that they were a good idea.

The reasonable expectation they have is that the initiatives will be implemented.

Now, in four out of four cases, there’s a real question of whether lawmakers in Augusta – particularly Republicans – will use their power to thwart the will of the voter.

Dare say, if they do, the anger that voters expressed in 2016 will be right back in 2018.

If politicians keep thumbing their noses at voters, come Election Day they can expect voters to do the same thing right back at them.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at