Three fishermen make their way back to shore in Jonesport, Maine, after tying their boat up at its mooring in Sawyer Cove on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Concerned over the chances of being sued, a small Down East town plans to not count the votes for a botched referendum that could have allowed restaurants to sell and serve alcohol on Sundays.

The selectmen in Jonesport decided Wednesday that they will disregard the results of the ballot question at the election on Nov. 8 after learning the question’s wording doesn’t follow the language required under state law.

The ballot question was supposed to ask residents if they wanted to allow the sale of alcohol to be consumed on the premise of a licensed establishment on Sundays. But instead, the question asked if they wanted to allow sales on all days, including Sunday.

Despite an official at the state Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations saying that the error appeared minor and likely wouldn’t be an issue, the selectmen decided it wasn’t worth the chance of a lawsuit.

“Our intention is to ignore it on the basis that it was not legally written,” said Jonesport Selectman William Milliken. “Our lawyer says it’s going to be vulnerable to a procedural challenge.”

The fishing community will still have the opportunity to approve alcohol sales for Monday through Saturday, as that ballot question did follow the state’s required wording.

The mistake happened sometime before selectmen signed the ballot warrant, according to Milliken. The wording was correct on documents in several previous procedural steps.

Jonesport only started allowing businesses to sell alcohol in 1976, but has never let beer, wine and liquor to be served in restaurants and bars. The town decided earlier this year to put the two ballot questions to the voters after Wayne Yee, a local dentist and business owner, garnered support for the measures in a citizen’s petition.

Yee, who hopes to serve alcohol in a local restaurant he is opening, was on board with the selectmen’s decision to discount the Sunday question.

“I think what they are doing is the best way to deal with the problem,” he said.

If voters approve alcohol sales for Monday through Saturday, Milliken said the town would have a chance to take up Sunday vote in June.

Milliken didn’t expect there to be much opposition to the Monday through Saturday vote, but thought there was a chance that some people in town would not be in favor of Sunday alcohol sales. To that end, he worried that if the incorrectly worded question passed, it would open the town to a lawsuit.

Legal challenges have become a headache for the town in recent years and officials are trying to avoid them if possible.

Jonesport has had several battles with the owners of private island in town, who have fought their tax bills and seaweed harvesting on their shores. Milliken also believed that an appeal could soon come from opponents of a land-based fish farm that is currently before the town’s planning board.