Maine professor explains referendum elections

Published: Nov. 7, 2023 at 5:45 PM EST
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ORONO, Maine (WABI) - University of Maine professor Mark Brewer says what a referendum election looks like varies by state. In simple terms, in Maine, a referendum question can get on the ballot when a certain number of signatures is reached. It then goes before the legislature where they have an opportunity to enact it by law. If it declines, it goes to citizens to decide.

“That’s the goal of the process from the outside, right? is to put these questions in front of voters, let it go to the ballot and let citizens weigh in on that election day like they are today,” Brewer said.

At the national level, Brewer says direct democracy is generally from the U.S. progressive era.

“They thought that by getting something like the referendum in place allowing citizens to legislate that that would allow the quality of popular sovereignty to increase now that if voters were frustrated that their legislative body or their executive branch whatever it might be wouldn’t do something they wanted to do this would give them an alternative way to get it put in place,” Brewer said.

Brewer says the questions can originate in several ways.

“Theoretically they could originate from an individual citizen. Generally there is more than a much more organized effort than one Mainer behind these questions, although in theory it could work that way,” Brewer said.

He says in some ways it’s more important to do your homework for referendum questions. His advice?

“You want to read the question before you go in but also kind of read some of the resources out there on the question,” He said.

He says some of those resources include the Secretary of State’s Office and the Maine League of Women Voters to gain background information before you head into the polls.