MAINE: Participatory Democracy in Action

Participatory Democracy in ActionWhat is Participatory Democracy? One of the Basic Documents published by the PDCI in our pages establishes (in Spanish) that: «Participatory democracy implies the active role of citizens in the functioning of democracy, through mechanisms established in a free civil society that allow their manifestation and effective participation in decision making. It is a democracy in which citizens are protagonists.» And it adds later on that: «Participatory democracy implies fostering the ways and means to convert citizens and their groups into direct political agents, even if marginal, but together with the political action of political parties»; therefore, it does NOT replace representative democracy nor antaghonizes it, but rather strengthens it. It is developed using certain mechanisms of direct democracy, as we may learn in the case of the State of Maine, in the USA.

Direct democracy New England

Ellsworth, Mar. 18.– Most municipalities in Maine operate under a town meeting form of government. For many New England towns, it has been that way since colonial times.

The town meeting is sometimes referred to as the purest form of democracy because citizens — not elected officials — make the important decisions for the operations of the town. In this direct form of government, elected officials carry out the will of the voters who are responsible for the adoption of laws and the raising of funds each year.

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way town meetings have traditionally been held. From drive-in meetings to referendum-only events, legal modifications were made to the laws governing town meetings to allow voters to make decisions, even if it wasn’t in the in-person fashion they are accustomed to.

Town meeting season is once again upon us and, for the most part, towns are reverting to in-person meetings. There is a lot to discuss. In Tremont, changes to the land use ordinance to regulate campgrounds will come before voters. Surry voters will consider how to regulate potential marijuana businesses. Bar Harbor voters will get to weigh in on retail marijuana businesses. Voters in all towns will be presented with municipal and school budgets, as well as ...

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