Your essential guide to Maine’s 2016 ballot initiatives

With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s  presidential campaigns dominating the news cycle, it is easy to forget that the president is just one of many choices voters will have to make on November 8. However, here in Maine, where citizen initiatives are relatively easy to get on the ballot, voters will decide on a wide range of topics. This year, five questions are on the ballot as citizen introduced ballot initiatives, which include marijuana legalization and more stringent gun control regulations. As a voter, it is one’s civic duty to make informed decisions about state issues, as well as the presidential election. Here is a breakdown of the five referendum questions appearing on the ballot this November.

The first question on the ballot asks, “Do you want to allow the possession and use of marijuana under state law by persons who are at least 21 years of age, and allow the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana?” This question is fairly straightforward. By voting “yes,” Maine will follow in the footsteps of states like Colorado and Washington in legalizing and regulating marijuana sales. Marijuana legalization advocates state that legalization will provide increased tax and tourism revenue, a decrease in drug abuse, and will stop the unjust incarceration of young men for minor drug offenses, especially men of color. However, groups who oppose the question claim that marijuana is extremely addictive and that legalization will normalize the drug to children. The opposition also expresses concern about the alleged negative emotional and physical effects of marijuana use.

The second ballot question asks, “Do you want to add a three percent tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning?” This ballot initiative is in response to a passed 2004 ballot initiative that mandates that the state budget includes enough money to fund 55 percent of public education costs.

Powerful interest groups have lined up on both sides of this bill. The Maine AFL-CIO and Maine Education Association both support the initiative as the most effective public school funding solution. However, Republican Governor Paul LePage and the Maine Chamber of Commerce oppose the initiative, saying that a tax increase for wealthy Mainers is not the solution to fund the public school budget.

The third question asks, “Do you want to require background checks prior to the sale or transfer of firearms?” This gun control initiative, supported by the Maine Gun Safety Coalition and The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, is touted as common sense gun control legislation that would prohibit domestic abusers and other dangerous people to gain access to guns. Opponents, including the well-funded National Rifle Association, state that the legislation will make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain guns for protection.

The fourth question asks whether the minimum wage should be raised to $12 per hour by 2020. In addition, voting yes on this question would also increase the direct wage for tipped workers from half of the minimum wage to five dollars an hour in 2017. This minimum wage for tipped workers would continue to increase by a dollar per year until it is equal to the general minimum wage, with a deadline of 2024.

Supporters of the initiative, including the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine Speaker of the House, Rep. Mark Eves (D-6) explain that all workers deserve to earn at least a living wage. Opponents, including Governor LePage and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, believe the initiative will place an undue burden on businesses, thereby  increasing unemployment.

The fifth and final citizen introduced initiative on the ballot asks, “Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections… and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?” A yes vote on this initiative would support establishing a statewide system of ranked-choice voting. Supporters of ranked-choice voting, including the Maine Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party of Maine, and the Maine Green Independent Party, believe ranked-choice voting is most likely to elect a candidate with broad appeal. Opposition to the bill, including, Governor LePage, states that logistical challenges would make the initiative costly and difficult to implement.

This election cycle, it’s important to be prepared to vote not only for president, but also for the array of other                          pressing issues Mainers will face in November.