August 1, 2011

Ballot decision still in limbo

Kennebec Journal Staff

The Maine People's Alliance and its partners have a decision to make this week about their effort to preserve people's ability to register to vote on Election Day. They will decide whether they have gathered enough signatures to put a question on the November ballot or keep collecting signatures and put the question the ballot in June.

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Listen to Susan Cover on WGAN Newsradio this morning.

The Maine People's Alliance and other groups, including the League of Women Voters of Maine and the Maine Civil Liberties Union, are trying to overturn a new law that that requires voters to register to vote at least two business days prior to an election.

The coalition has until 5 p.m. Aug. 9 to deliver the valid signatures of at least 57,277 registered voters to the Secretary of State's Office. However, the coalition must first give the petitions to municipal clerks so they can determine whether the people who signed them are registered voters. That process will take several days, said Mike Tipping, a spokesman for the Maine People's Alliance.

If the coalition decides this week that it doesn't have enough signatures to make the Aug. 9 deadline, he said, it would keep gathering signatures with goal of putting the question on the June ballot.

After it receives the petitions, the Secretary of State's Office would have 30 days to review them to assure that the signatures will gathered according to law.

If the petition drive is successful, it would be the only people's veto question on the ballot.

The Maine People's Alliance had contemplated launching a people's veto campaign to overturn L.D. 1333, a new law the overhauls Maine's individual and small group health insurance market.

But that petition drive never got off the ground. Tipping said that the is group decided that it could not raise the millions of dollars needed to run a campaign that could compete successfully with an opposing campaign funded by the insurance industry.

Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said that a people's veto campaign for L.D. 1333 never materialized because law is popular with Maine voters.

"They obviously could not get the signatures because people believe that the health care system needs to be fixed," Webster said.

Commissioner's report

One of the loose ends surrounding departing Norm Olsen's tenure at the Department of Marine Resources is a top-to-bottom review he commissioned for $30,000.

Olsen, who said some DMR staffers began ignoring or defying his leadership by the end of his six-month tenure, said the report would shed some light on the effectiveness -- or lack thereof -- of the agency. He also said he was concerned some controversial revelations would be suppressed.

Pat Keliher, acting commissioner of the department, said last week that the review and report are continuing without interruption. He said he expects a final draft from the three-man review team by Aug. 15. Keliher said he, along with a couple senior staff members, would be reviewing only small sections of the report to fact-check the pieces pertaining to Maine law but would not be privy to the entire report.

Olsen hired three men to conduct the review -- David Borden, former director of the fish and wildlife division in Rhode Island and former member of the New England Fisheries Council, Pete Jensen, a former deputy secretary in charge of marine resources in Maryland and David Wallace, a Maryland-based industry consultant and member of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce's Marine Advisory Committee.

The auditors have reviewed documents, interviewed staffers, lawmakers and industry members as part of their work.

Olsen said it had been 15 years since a similar review was conducted and generally felt that after 12 years under one commissioner, George Lapointe, the department was due for a shake-up.

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