Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap shakes hands after the Legislature elected him to another term in 2018. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A ballot measure that backers hope would kill Central Maine Power’s proposed power line through the state’s western woods may well be unconstitutional, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said. But he also said it should stay on the ballot.

Dunlap details the seemingly paradoxical position in a brief filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, where CMP’s parent company, Avangrid Networks, is seeking to get the item struck from the November ballot on constitutional grounds.

The case represents a “rare circumstance in which an initiative involves a subject matter that is beyond the power of the voters to enact,” Dunlap said. And he said the time is “ripe” for the courts to decide before the referendum takes place.

But Dunlap also said voters should get their chance to weigh in, and the item itself should stay on the ballot. He argued that even if the courts decide the question had no enforceable effect, it still could be considered as an advisory referendum. And he said that CMP would not suffer irreparable harm as a result.

He noted the value of the petition drive that produced 66,000 valid signatures. Quoting precedent, Dunlap said, “the broad purpose of the direct initiative is to encourage participatory democracy.”

Opponents and supporters of the project are each calling attention to arguments in the brief that seem most to favor their position.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.