The Daily Brew: Federal judge blocks Maine’s ban on out-of-state initiative petition circulators

Welcome to the Monday, March 1, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Federal judge blocks Maine’s ban on out-of-state initiative petition circulators 
  2. Filing deadline for Texas’ 6th Congressional District special election approaches
  3. Federal Register update: Biden administration’s highest weekly page total to date

Federal judge blocks Maine’s ban on out-of-state initiative petition circulators 

In like a lion and out like a lamb. Welcome to March.

We’ve been following a lawsuit in Maine since it was first filed in December, which addresses whether the state can require that petition circulators be registered voters. Here’s an update.

On Feb. 16, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock blocked Maine from enforcing a requirement that petition circulators be registered voters and, therefore, state residents. Woodcock’s ruling stated that “the First Amendment’s free speech protections trump the state’s regulatory authority,” and, “The Court framed its opinion as a prelude to a challenge to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for a more authoritative ruling.” Woodcock was appointed by President George W. Bush (R) in 2003. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows (D) may appeal the ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. 

The ruling makes it possible for proponents of a 2022 ballot initiative that would amend the state’s voter qualification statute to say that a person must be a citizen to vote. Similar measures explicitly requiring citizenship to vote were approved by voters in Alabama, Colorado, and Florida in 2020 and in North Dakota in 2018.

State Rep. William Faulkingham (R-136) initially filed the initiative in 2019 and, after suspending the campaign due to a lack of funds that year, relaunched it targeting the 2022 ballot.

  • Four plaintiffs—Faulkingham, a political action committee, a nonprofit organization, and a petition circulator from Michigan—filed the lawsuit against Bellows and Maine’s deputy secretary of state.  The lawsuit argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “ballot access rules which reduce the pool of available circulators of initiative petitions is a severe impairment” and that residency requirements significantly impede their ability to qualify their measure for the ballot. The plaintiffs also argued that the circulator restrictions prevent them from associating with a large portion of the available professional petition circulators and that requiring out-of-state circulators to register with the state is sufficient to safeguard the integrity of the initiative process.
  • Bellows and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn argued that many other initiatives and veto referendums have successfully qualified for the ballot while adhering to the state’s circulator requirements, proving the requirements are not a severe burden on free speech. The defendants also said that the state’s circulator requirements have been upheld by state courts and that the circulator requirements are necessary for the state’s interests in protecting the integrity of the initiative process and “protecting the initiative’s grassroots nature.”

Faulkingham said the campaign had gathered 88,000 signatures as of Feb. 17. A total of 63,067 valid signatures were required by Feb. 26 to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot. In court filings, the campaign said that out-of-state professional petition circulators had collected 90% of signatures gathered as of Jan. 25.

Seven states—out of the 26 with a statewide initiative or veto referendum process—currently have residency requirements for ballot initiative petition circulators. An additional three states—Colorado, Maine, and Mississippi—had requirements in their laws, but federal courts have invalidated or blocked their enforcement.

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Filing deadline for Texas’ 6th Congressional District special election approaches

This Wednesday—March 3—is the filing deadline for the special election in Texas’ 6th Congressional District. The election was called to fill the vacancy left by Ronald Wright (R), who died from complications related to COVID-19.

In the 2020 regular election for the district, Wright defeated Democratic challenger Stephen Daniel 58%-41%. Donald Trump (R) won the district by three percentage points in 2020.

There are three special congressional elections scheduled for this year so far. The other two are in Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts on March 20. Read on at the link below for more information.

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Federal Register update: Biden administration’s highest weekly page total to date

Every week, we publish an update on the Federal Register, a daily journal of federal government activity that includes presidential documents, proposed and final rules, and public notices. Let’s take a look at the latest report.

From Feb. 22 through Feb. 26—the sixth week of the Biden administration—the Federal Register grew by 1,408 pages for a year-to-date total of 11,846 pages. During the same period of the Trump administration in 2017, the Federal Register grew by 714 pages for a year-to-date total of 12,502 pages.

The Federal Register hit an all-time high of 95,894 pages in 2016.

This week’s Federal Register featured the following 673 documents:

  • 465 notices (public hearings and meetings, grant applications, and administrative orders)
  • five presidential documents (executive orders and proclamations)
  • 87 proposed rules (petitions for rulemaking)
  • 116 final rules (policy statements and interpretations of rules)

One proposed rule from the Agricultural Marketing Service concerning lamb promotion, research, and information as well as one final rule from the Federal Aviation Administration regarding unmanned aircraft operations were deemed significant under E.O. 12866—defined by the potential to have large impacts on the economy, environment, public health, or state or local governments. Significant actions may also conflict with presidential priorities or other agency rules. 

The Biden administration has issued four significant proposed rules and two significant final rules as of Feb. 26.

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