Maine earns a lot of superlatives. Among all the others, ours is consistently rated as one of the most beautiful states, with one of the lowest crime rates and the highest quality of life. There’s one distinction, though, for which we should be especially proud: our consistently high level of voter participation.
Mainers hit the polls on Election Day at a rate unparalleled by residents of other states. In 2014, for example, Maine had the highest voter turnout in the country, and was one of just a handful of states that saw turnout increase over the previous cycle. During years with presidential elections, like this one, our participation rate is even higher.
Our tradition of civic engagement dates back to Colonial times. Town meetings – a form of community decision-making originally brought to the New World by the Puritans – still take place in communities all over our state today. They gave us a foundation of direct democracy, which manifests in the current era as voter participation.
That history is baked into our identity as Mainers. But our proud tradition of democratic activity isn’t only innate. It is intentional, supported and encouraged by policies we have passed in Maine that break down barriers to engagement.
For example, we’ve offered same-day voter registration for years, so that all eligible voters can participate in the election – even if they’ve never registered before, or have moved and need to update their registration. In 2010, when so-called reformers tried to eliminate same-day voter registration, Maine people said “no way.”
We also have created a robust system of absentee voting, so that scheduling constraints, limited mobility, and long lines at the polls don’t have to prevent anyone from making their voice heard on Election Day. Any registered voter can vote absentee, for any reason or for no reason at all, via mail or in person at their town or city hall. Absentee ballots are available now for the upcoming Nov. 8 general election.
We’ve established and defended programs like same-day voter registration and absentee voting because we understand that real representative democracy is only possible when as many citizens as possible are engaged in the democratic process. When election turnout is depressed, or would-be voters are turned away from the polls unnecessarily, our entire system of “government of, by, and for the people” is jeopardized.
After all, elections themselves don’t solve problems. But they do decide who will work on our behalf – in our local town hall, in the State House, or in Washington – to solve the challenges that face us and to leave our society better off tomorrow than it is today.
Voting gives the average citizen an awesome power, but also an awesome responsibility. It’s not enough to simply make a decision or have an opinion. That decision or opinion should come after a careful and deliberate weighing of the facts.
It is in that spirit that I’d also like to share another resource: the Secretary of State’s Citizens Guide to the Referendum Election, available online at maine.gov/sos. At the ballot box this year, Mainers will be asked to decide questions regarding marijuana legalization, education funding, firearm background checks, the minimum wage, and ranked-choice voting. These are big issues that deserve serious consideration. Plus, there’s a transportation bond to be decided, one that would fund improvements of our roads, bridges, and transportation facilities.
I urge all of us to do our homework, to reach our own conclusions, and to weigh in on Election Day.