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Maine rejects enshrining voting rights for people with severe mental illnesses

Bangor Daily News - 11/9/2023

Nov. 8—For the third time in 26 years, Maine voters rejected a ballot initiative that would repeal a constitutional prohibition on voting for those under guardianship for reasons of mental illness.

The no side of Question 8 had 52.5 percent of votes to 47.5 percent for the yes side, according to unofficial reports to the Bangor Daily News after the Associated Press called the race on Wednesday.

There is no practical effect from the result because Maine has not enforced the voting prohibition since a federal judge found it unconstitutional in 2001. Voters also shot down attempts to take this provision of the state Constitution off the books in 1997 and 2000.

When the state was founded in 1820, its Constitution barred "paupers and persons under guardianship" from voting. In 1965, that was amended to just apply to those under guardianship for reasons of mental illness. A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent the fix contained in Question 8 to voters earlier this year.

The head of Disability Rights Maine called the proposed change "long overdue," while Matt Gagnon, the CEO of the conservative Maine Policy Institute, wrote a Bangor Daily News column against Question 8 that argued for a narrower solution.

It was one of the more minor items among the slate of eight referendums on Tuesday's ballot. Voters passed Question 5 but rejected Question 7. Both of them were also minor constitutional amendments that were both aimed at state petition laws.

Question 5 is a response to workload in the secretary of state's office, giving it more time to review signatures for referendums. Question 7 aimed to align the state with a federal court ruling in 2022 that struck down as unconstitutional a state requirement that signature gatherers trying to get items on the ballot must be Maine residents and voters.


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