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Court: Maine must redo ballot language about power question

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courtroom (WGME)
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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Maine court is requiring the secretary of state to reword a ballot question about the future of utility service in the state over concerns the current language could mislead voters.

Maine voters are expected to participate in a November referendum about a proposal to replace Maine’s privately owned electric utilities with a consumer-owned Pine Tree Power Company. A group called Our Power is leading the charge behind the proposal.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows released wording about the question in January. Cumberland County Superior Court ruled on Thursday that voters might not understand it and that Bellows must revise it.

The court took issue with part of the question that asks voters if they “want to create a new quasi-governmental power company.” Voters might not know what “quasi-governmental” means, the court ruled. The court also noted that the initiative describes Pine Tree Power as “consumer-owned,” which is not necessarily the same thing as quasi-governmental.

Wayne Jortner, lead petitioner for the Our Power initiative, said the court’s ruling was the right one. The phrasing quasi-governmental “is not only confusing but also factually incorrect,” Jortner said.

A spokesperson for Bellows, Emily Cook said the office is “reviewing the decision and weighing next steps” and noted there is still time to appeal.

Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, which opposes the creation of Pine Tree Power, is reviewing the ruling, said coalition spokesperson Willy Ritch. In a written statement Friday, Ritch alleged that Pine Tree Power “is no more ‘consumer-owned’ than the Maine Turnpike is.”

He said the coalition would actually be run by elected politicians and that the move would mark the “largest seizure of private property in the state’s history.”

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“It sure sounds like government power to me,” he said.

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