It’s time for open primaries

Mainers take voting seriously. 

Voters can register up until the day they vote and can cast ballots absentee without an excuse. Public financing is available to candidates who want it, and Maine was first state in the nation to adopt ranked-choice voting for statewide elections. 

In short, Maine goes out of its way to make sure everyone has their voices heard on election day. 

So why, then, is it a different story when it comes to primaries?

On April 12, the Legislature will hold a public hearing on LD 231—An Act to Establish Open Primaries. The bill is co-sponsored by Nicole Grohoski of Ellsworth and seeks to allow unenrolled voters the opportunity to vote in one party’s primary election without becoming members of that party. 

It is time to make this happen. Opening the primaries to allow all unenrolled registered voters to cast a ballot will rejuvenate the political parties and strengthen elections.

Roughly a third of the state’s eligible voters – 339,782 following the July 14 primary – do not identify with any party and are therefore unable to participate in the primary. That means that a significant number of registered voters have to sit on the sidelines, leaving each party’s base to potentially push candidates that lean too far right or left for the mainstream voter. When this happens, general election voters are often left having to hold their noses and choosing a candidate who may not speak for them.

Primaries are tax-payer-funded elections. We do not see any reason why a third of the state’s voters should be disenfranchised from a process they help to fund. 

Mainers are fiercely independent and so, too, should be Maine elections. The democratic process should be about inclusion, not exclusion. Opening primaries is a matter of fairness. It would better to ensure that the candidates who appear on the general election ballot represent more of the people they seek to serve. That is all Mainers, not just the party faithful. We urge lawmakers to carefully consider the bill before them and to open up primary elections to all unenrolled voters who want to participate. 

Maine’s state motto is Dirigo, “I lead.” When it comes to voting, let the people lead every step of the way. 

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