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Dunlap: CMP Ballot Measure May Be Unconstitutional, But Should Still Go To Voters

Fred Bever
Maine Public

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap says a ballot measure that backers hope would kill Central Maine Power’s proposed power line through the state’s western woods may well be unconstitutional. But he also says it should stay on the ballot.

Dunlap details the seemingly paradoxical position in a brief filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, where CMP’s parent company, Avangrid Networks, is seeking to get the item struck from the November ballot on constitutional grounds.

Dunlap says the case represents a “rare circumstance in which an initiative involves a subject matter that is beyond the power of the voters to enact.” And he says the time is “ripe” for the courts to decide before the referendum takes place.

But Dunlap also says voters should get their chance to weigh in, and the item itself should stay on the ballot. He argues that even were the courts to decide that the question had no enforceable effect, it still could be considered as an advisory referendum. And he says that CMP would not suffer irreparable harm as a result.

He notes the value of the petition drive that produced 66,000 valid signatures. Quoting precedent, Dunlap says, “the broad purpose of the direct initiative is to encourage participatory democracy.”

Opponents and supporters of the project are each calling attention to arguments in the brief that seem most to favor their position.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.