Much ink has been spilled and many electronic pixels brightened and dimmed over the past few days on the subject of the overwhelming vote in favor of Question 1 in the recent election, and what this result means for the near future of politics in Maine.

As someone who’s been involved in the campaign for the “yes” side, seeking to protect election-day voter registration, I’d like to offer some thoughts about what I’ve seen and what it might mean for our state.

First of all, it’s important to note that the issue itself is important. Much of the conversation about the meaning of the vote on Question 1 has used it as a proxy, a way to predict the political outcomes for issues, candidates and parties next year, but I think the issue itself has just as much salience as the matters surrounding it.

The attempt to eliminate election-day registration wasn’t a small change of policy. For many, it was like removing a block from the very base of the teetering Jenga tower that represents our system of government and democracy.

People have legitimate fears about corporate control of government and growing inequality in our society, and they consider themselves increasingly voiceless in the affairs of state.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is the latest and most visible expression of this sense of displacement.

Making it more difficult for people to have their voices heard in the most fundamental way — through casting ballots in a fair and open election — was seen by many as an assault on the unique democratic culture and fundamental values of the state of Maine.

Republican leaders now may claim that the attempt to eliminate same-day registration wasn’t that big a deal, and that they didn’t really care much about the issue anyway.

“It was such an arcane issue, I don’t think there is really momentum involved,” is the quote from Maine Heritage Policy Center director Lance Dutson in the Portland Daily Sun, attempting to minimize the impact of the vote.

These kinds of statements now are, literally, childish. They are akin to the disappointed kid on Christmas morning seeing the awesome new toy under a friend’s tree instead of his own and claiming, “I didn’t really want that anyway!”

If it really were just an “arcane” and trivial piece of policy, Republican leaders wouldn’t have worked so hard to squeeze out every last vote from their caucus in the Legislature (whipping harder than any other bill that session, except for the one that deregulated Maine’s health insurance industry).

If it were meaningless, then this and similar policies wouldn’t have been the centerpiece of a nationwide push by Republicans and corporate-backed groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, seeking to roll back voting rights in states across the country.

We likely also wouldn’t have seen the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by still unidentified out-of-state groups on last-minute and misleading ads attempting to influence the vote.

If there was no “momentum involved,” I doubt the Republican Party and the secretary of state’s office would have put their credibility on the line (and lost it) with such a high-profile, unfounded investigation into student voting.

I think it’s clear at every step that both sides knew the importance of this campaign.

So what does the result mean?

In the short term, it means that any other push to limit voting rights is dead in the water.

Republicans couldn’t get the votes to pass photo-ID requirements in the last session, before the people’s veto, and they certainly aren’t going to get them now that senators can see their own re-election campaigns on the horizon.

In the medium term, it shows where the political enthusiasm is in the state of Maine. This was expected to be a low-turnout election, a contest of getting out the vote.

In the end, the grass-roots energy was all on one side. From the record-setting signature gathering to high turnout levels on Election Day, the Yes on 1 campaign proved it has the ability to out-organize the Republican machine that seemed so daunting just a year ago.

The infrastructure and an enthusiasm built by this campaign will certainly carry over into 2012.

Finally, in the longer view, this result casts a hopeful light on the future of our state. Maine voters rejected a campaign based on fear and aligned themselves with one based on common sense. They chose to speak out not on an issue with an immediate, personal and material benefit such as jobs or health care or the economy, but on a more fundamental principle, the importance of democracy.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes the Tipping Point blog on Maine politics at DownEast.com, his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine People’s Resource Center. He’s @miketipping on Twitter. Email to [email protected]

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