Maine unable to stop outsiders from gathering ballot petition signatures
The First Circuit is upholding a preliminary injunction in Maine. There is a mandate that only residents of Maine who are registered to vote there can gather signatures for ballot proposals. This likely violates the First Amendment.
There are reportedly only six licensed petition circulators in the entire state. The state law substantially restricts Maine residents’ capacity to place referendums on the ballot. This is according to the Boston-based appeals court.
In a 63-page opinion, Chief U.S. Circuit Judge David Barron stated that the law prohibits individuals who want to propose legislation from reaching into a pool of more than 250 million individuals of voting age to aid in the collection of signatures. Also to engage in face-to-face communication designed to bring about political change that accompanies that collection of signatures.
According to Obama appointee Barron, the First Amendment probably forbids a state rule. It dramatically limits the number of persons, both volunteer and paid, available to circulate petitions.
The decision is a victory for the We the People PAC.
A group working to pass a ballot initiative that would forbid non-citizens from casting ballots in any Maine elections. The PAC contends that some other states have opened up their electoral process to illegal aliens. The purpose of the referendum is to prevent that trend from making its way to the state of Maine according to a lower court decision that granted the preliminary injunction. This is despite the fact that Maine already prohibits non-citizens from voting.
The PAC’s initial campaign in 2019 yielded only 2,000 signatures, falling short of the approximately 63,000 needed to get the proposal on the ballot. The PAC attempted again the following year, combining 49 experienced out-of-state circulators with eligible voters; this new strategy generated about 38,000 signatures. The PAC believes that if it didn’t have to painstakingly match out-of-staters with locals, it could perform even better.
The PAC was likely to win on the merits. If it couldn’t use the circulators it wanted, it would suffer irreparable injury, according to the First Circuit. For that reason a preliminary injunction was necessary. By limiting involvement in its political process to its residents the state said that its regulations were important to maintain its politics at the grassroots.
However, the court ruled that Maine politics already only allowed Mainers to participate.
In fact, only residents of Maine are allowed to sign petitions or cast ballots for referendums.
Additionally, the state claimed that because it is simpler for state officials to get in touch with a citizen of Maine if they have concerns about the validity of a petition. The statute was required to avoid fraud. However, the court ruled that this argument was absurd given today’s technology; the state could easily demand that out-of-state circulators provide their most recent contact information. Last but not least, the state asserted that although Maine only has a small number of professional petition circulators, there are undoubtedly thousands of Mainers who would be prepared to do it as a side job to earn additional money.
The number of Mainers who might be willing to distribute a petition if they were paid to do so is not the pertinent point, he claimed in his letter. The crucial question is whether the residency restriction eliminates a sufficient number of individuals; especially professional circulators who could expand the campaign’s reach. This includes those who may live outside of Maine from the pool of potential circulators.
The First Amendment, according to Barron, protects the proponents’ ability to not only advocate for their cause but also to choose the strategy they feel will be most successful in doing so.