Civil War-era rule ties voters’ hands



SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Some voters at last week’s town meeting wanted to increase the dollar amount of an item in the municipal budget, and they were stunned to learn they couldn’t even vote on it.

Several of them complained to moderator Joe Marshall. But if they want someone to blame, they can look to Ezekiel Austin. He was a Civil War soldier from the town of York whose court case gave the weight of law to the voting rule they objected to.

At issue at this year’s town meeting was a motion to increase the appropriation for the Capital Improvement Plan Reserve.

Marshall ruled the motion out of order, citing the Maine Moderator’s Manual, which states that if a specific dollar amount is included in a town meeting warrant article, that amount can be reduced but not increased.

That rule stems from an 1869 decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in the case of Ezekiel Austin vs. Inhabitants of York. Those inhabitants had voted at town meeting to award Austin a $300 “bounty” for enlisting in the Army of the United States.

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