They’re talking election reforms at the Legislature this session, and goodness knows we need some. Here’s my wish list.
Instead of spending the next two years speculating about who might spoil the gubernatorial election for whom, let’s schedule a run-off 30 days after the November election between the top two vote-getters if no candidate gets 50 percent or more of the initial vote. Really, this is essential if Maine’s independent-minded voters are to ever get a governor that has the support of at least half of us.
I once suggested that “none of the above” be a choice in every race. If that choice got more than the candidates in the race, the political parties would have to give us new candidates for a new election. Of course, one clever legislator told me he would change his name to None Of The Above. I called him None the rest of that session.
Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, a well-respected and effective legislator who bears the burden of representing me at the State House, sponsored LD 174 to prohibit political signs within 25 feet of a cemetery or burial site. I’ll go Tom one better.
Political signs are a blight on our beautiful environment. They ought to be prohibited on all public lands, public property and road right-of-ways. If you support a candidate and want to put his or her sign on your property, that is your right. But those signs should be placed only on private property, with permission.
And by the way — if you are basing your voting decisions on political signs, no wonder we’re in trouble!
In my ideal political campaign world, candidates would win our votes with thoughtful, issue-oriented material, delivered to our homes, and in public appearances during which we had the opportunity to get to know them and ask them questions. I know. I’m an unrealistic dreamer.
One of the most significant changes in Maine campaign tactics came with the enactment of the Clean Elections Act. I was not an initial enthusiast of spending tax money to help candidates get elected. And now that the Clean Elections Fund is unable to provide publicly funded candidates with funding that matches the spending of their opponents, the system is set up to fail.
Far fewer candidates chose public funding in 2012 because of this change. Given that there is no way to limit the spending of privately funded candidates, I don’t see much of a future for public funding of campaigns.
Rep. Mike Shaw, D-Standish, an outstanding and thoughtful legislator, has sponsored an interesting bill to allow early voting without the procedures required for absentee balloting. A new report from the Commission to Study Elections in Maine endorsed early voting, and it has won the enthusiastic support of Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who told me that early voting pilot projects were spectacularly successful. The Maine Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — a group I greatly admire — also has expressed strong support for early voting.
Absentee voters also should be able to show up on Election Day, ask that their absentee ballots be destroyed and cast new ballots. With voters now casting ballots a month in advance of the election, and the potential for last-minute issues and situations that change the dynamics of a race, this opportunity ought to be offered — or the time frame for absentee balloting should be shortened.
Finally, there is a bill to allow candidates to wear nametags when they campaign (oops, I mean stand) outside polling places. Because campaigning is not allowed within 250 feet of polling places, candidates who stand there to “meet and greet” voters are not supposed to give their names or refer to their candidacies. I wonder whom we are fooling here.
If, on Election Day, these candidates are unknown to you, both you and the candidates have failed. If political signs can’t be placed within 250 feet of a polling place, candidates shouldn’t be there, either. I have no problem with candidates, petitioners, pollsters or anyone else locating at the exit of a polling place. But if any of these are at the entrance, they can intimidate and discourage voting.
I remember well the time that Doug Vanderweide, at that time the editorial writer for this newspaper, opined that voters who knew nothing about the candidates or issues should not vote, leaving the decisions up to those of us who are informed.
Boy, did he get blasted for that one! But it might be the best electoral reform of all time.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.