With the recent passage of LD 231, sponsored by state Sen. Chloe Maxmin (D-Lincoln) and co-sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth), unenrolled voters (more commonly referred to as independents) starting in 2024 will be allowed to vote in primary elections without having to enroll in a party first.
Unenrolled voters can only choose one party ballot in which to vote, and those registered as Republicans or Democrats would still have to vote in their respective primaries.
“Countless unenrolled voters on the campaign trail lamented how they could not vote in a party primary,” Maxmin told the Portland Press Herald last year. “Their taxes pay for these elections, but they can’t participate. They will vote on the primary winner in the November general election, but they have no say on who that candidate will be.”
Unenrolled voters make up approximately one-third of registered voters in Maine, the second largest voting bloc behind Democrats, who make up 36 percent. To participate in the primary currently, voters have to declare a party affiliation and then remain in that party for three months until they are eligible to again change their affiliation.
Voting is a right of all citizens and a principal pillar of democracy. The act of voting should be made as easy as possible to encourage participation. Maine has done a lot to encourage participation, so this step to open the primary election to unenrolled voters seems like a natural one.
Primary elections in Maine have long been a party-specific exercise. Those elections, which choose future candidates in a general election, typically bring out the most partisan voters who in turn have an inflated influence on the outcome. Yet, all taxpayers fund the process.
The democratic process should be about inclusion, not exclusion, and we strongly support the enactment of this law and look forward to seeing greater voter participation in the primaries starting in 2024.