Maine Voters To Decide On Prohibiting Foreign Election Spending
AUGUSTA, Maine —
We’re covering a total of 40 statewide ballot measures this year (so far!), and some of the most interesting that we’ve highlighted in this newsletter over the last few months have come out of Maine (click here to read a recent example). On July 25, Maine added its eighth measure to the 2023 ballot—the Maine Prohibit Foreign Spending in Elections Initiative.
As the title suggests, the initiative would prohibit foreign governments—or companies partially or fully owned by foreign governments—from spending money in Maine elections.
To understand why the Prohibit Foreign Spending in Elections Initiative is on the ballot, we need to discuss the role the state’s largest electric transmission and distribution utilities—Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant—have played in Maine politics. Both companies, which supply more than 96% of the state’s electricity, are investor-owned. Spanish-based electric utility company Iberdrola holds a majority stake in Avangrid, CMP’s parent company. Enmax, an energy company in Alberta, Canada, owns Versant.
In 2018, various Massachusetts utility companies signed an agreement with CMP to build a 145-mile high-voltage transmission line, known as New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), that would bring hydroelectric power from Quebec, Canada, to Massachusetts. In 2021, Maine residents voted 59.2% to 40.8% to approve Question 1, an initiated state statute which prohibited the construction of the NECEC. Question 1 was the most expensive ballot measure in Maine’s history. Hydro Quebec, which is owned by the Quebec government, spent more than $20 million in opposition to Question 1 (when Question 1 passed, NECEC Transmission, LLC and Avangrid filed a lawsuit to overturn it. On April 20, 2023, a jury decided in a 9-0 unanimous verdict that the construction of the NECEC can resume).
The Maine Prohibit Foreign Spending in Elections Initiative can also be understood in the context of another measure on the November ballot—the Pine Tree Power Company Initiative. We covered this initiative in detail in the May 22 edition of this newsletter. Briefly, if approved, the initiative would replace CMP and Versant with a municipal consumer-owned electric transmission and distribution utility called the Pine Tree Power Company, run by a publicly elected board. Avangrid, CMP’s parent company, has contributed over $13 million to defeat the initiative to create the Pine Tree Power Company.
The legislature passed the Prohibit Foreign Spending in Elections Initiative on July 6, marking the first time in 16 years that lawmakers approved a citizen initiative rather than letting it go to the ballot. On July 19, Gov. Janet Mills (D) vetoed it. On July 25, the House voted 73-50 to override Mills’ veto, failing to achieve the required two-thirds majority vote in both chambers (which would have amounted to 101 votes in the House) and guaranteeing the initiative would appear on the November ballot.
Maine has a Democratic trifecta—Democrats control the governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature.
Maine is one of nine states with an indirect initiative process, meaning that initiatives go to the legislature if they get the required number of signatures. Lawmakers can then either approve, propose an alternative, reject, or take no action on the initiative. If they reject or take no action on the initiative, it proceeds to the ballot. If the governor vetoes a legislature-approved initiative, then it also proceeds to the ballot—unless the legislature votes to override the veto.
In issuing her veto, Mills said: “While I strongly support and share the desire to find ways to prevent foreign influence in our elections, the language of this bill is too broad and would likely result in the unintended consequences of effectively silencing legitimate voices, including Maine-based businesses, in debates that would impact their interests.”
State Rep. Nathan Carlow (R) said, “The central pillar of the chief executive’s veto is the supposition that foreign governments like Russia, China and Iran, and the foreign corporations under their control, are guaranteed Constitutional right and protections of free speech in this country.”
In 2021, Mills vetoed a similar bill, LD 194, which was written to prohibit foreign government-owned entities from making contributions to influence ballot measures. That same year, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) found in a 4-2 decision that the federal ban on foreign political contributions concerns candidate elections, not ballot measure campaigns.
Seven states—California, Colorado, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington—prohibit foreign nationals from making contributions to ballot measure campaigns.
This year, three other citizen-initiated state statutes went to the legislature, including the Pine Tree Power one. The legislature did not approve these measures, so they will appear on the ballot for Maine voters to decide in November. The last time this many measures were on the ballot in Maine in an odd-numbered year was 1989, when there were 11.
East Lansing, Michigan, voters to decide on three charter amendments in November, including one to move local elections from odd to even-numbered years
Speaking of ballot measures, let’s look at a few local ones on the ballot in November in East Lansing, Michigan.
Voters in East Lansing will decide three charter amendments, including one that would move local elections from odd to even-numbered years. If voters approve the amendment, the 2025 election would move to 2026.
East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg said, “Keeping our odd-year, off-year elections and shouldering the cost of a city council-only election, to me, equals expending city resources to disenfranchise two-thirds of our residents. And that does not sit right with me.”
Councilmember George Brookover voted against the change saying, “In effect, what we’re doing by moving into even-numbered years is we’re throwing a non-partisan election in the middle of a partisan campaign,” in reference to moving the non-partisan city council elections to even-numbered years.
In 2022, we tracked 13 local ballot measures that proposed moving local election dates from odd to even-numbered years, all of which were approved. The average “yes” vote for the measures was 70.3%.
State lawmakers have also introduced legislation that would move election dates. According to our database, legislators have introduced 42 bills related to consolidating permissible election dates—more than the 18 such bills introduced in all of 2022.
East Lansing voters will also decide on an amendment to change the start date of city council member terms of office from the Tuesday following the election to the first Tuesday following Jan. 1 of the following calendar year, allowing more time for local election officials to certify the election results before the city council takes office. Voters will also decide on an amendment to increase the city council from five to seven members.
This year, we’re covering local ballot measures in the 100 largest cities in the U.S., within state capitals, and throughout California, as well as a selection of election-related and policing-related measures outside of the largest cities. Click here to learn more about local ballot measures.
In June, we did a deep dive into ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center. ERIC is a multi-state voter list maintenance organization, initially established in 2012 by a group of chief election officials from seven states. Here’s an update to our story from last month.
On July 20, Texas became the eighth state to resign from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) in 2023, and the ninth state overall.
At its height in 2022, 33 states were participating members in ERIC. ERIC describes its mission as “to assist states in improving the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increasing access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.” States that join ERIC agree to share their voter registration and licensing and identification data from motor vehicle departments every 60 days. ERIC then compiles this data and subsequently releases a series of voter list maintenance reports.
Alicia Pierce, a representative for Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson, said compliance with Senate Bill 1070 was the reason for Texas’s withdrawal. SB1070, which Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed on June 18, includes provisions that make compliance with ERIC’s bylaws effectively impossible and directs the Texas Secretary of State to develop a new voter registration data-sharing compact, or find a new program with annual dues less than $100,000.
The Texas State Senate approved SB1070 by a vote of 26-4 on April 12, and the Texas House of Representatives passed the bill 85-61 on May 23.
The withdrawal will become effective on Oct. 19.
The Texas Republican Party, which supports the state’s withdrawal from ERIC, said: “The ERIC membership agreement collects an extensive amount of personally identifiable information and data related to elections going far beyond the requirements of our Interstate Crosscheck Program.”
Rep. John Bucy (D), who successfully added two amendments to SB1070, said, “The GOP push to get out of ERIC shows they’re not committed to safe and accurate elections as they claim, but instead are committed to placating extremists in their party that perpetuate the big lie.”
You can read more about ERIC at the link below. Click here to subscribe to The Ballot Bulletin, our weekly newsletter on all things election policy and administration.
Produced in association with Ballotpedia