A referendum on the planned New England Clean Energy Connect electric transmission line through Maine can be presented to voters as a single question, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled Thursday.
After opponents of the 145-mile transmission line, already under construction between Quebec and Lewiston, gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ office drafted a single, multipart question to be placed on the November ballot.
It will ask voters if they want to ban construction of the line, require legislative approval of similar projects in the state and have the Legislature retroactively review projects dating to 2014 and require approval by a two-thirds vote for those projects that use public land.
State Rep. Christopher Caiazzo, D-Scarborough, filed the lawsuit, arguing that the referendum should be split into three separate questions for voters to decide individually, and the state supreme court agreed to take up the case quickly so ballots for the November election can be prepared beginning next month.
Thursday, the court said the Maine Secretary of State’s Office is not required to split a referendum into separate questions.
Maine law requires that the office draft each ballot question in a “clear, concise and direct manner,” the court said. There may be times that the secretary of state decides splitting a referendum into two or more questions helps reach that goal, the court said, but Bellows cannot be required to do so.
The ballot measure is aimed at crippling the controversial New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line project, which would bring Canadian hydroelectric power through Maine to Massachusetts. The project, known as NECEC for short, is a joint venture between Central Maine Power parent company Avangrid and Canadian hydroelectric utility Hydro-Quebec.
Construction on the $1 billion project already has begun along an existing CMP corridor, but court action has delayed work on an undeveloped stretch near the Quebec border.
Proponents of the referendum submitted 95,622 signatures, and 80,506 of them were validated, Bellows’ office has said. A minimum of 63,067 signatures from registered Maine voters is required for a statewide referendum question to be placed on the ballot.