At this moment, state legislators are considering a bill that every Mainer who was disappointed in 2016 should pay attention to.

L.D. 1083 will serve our state elections in 2020 in three important ways. First, it will move Maine from a presidential caucus to a primary state. Second, it will adopt ranked-choice voting for the presidential primary. Third, it will expand ranked-choice voting for use in the general election for president.

It’s not an overstatement to say that, in recent years, the faith of many Americans in our electoral integrity has been shaken. Shameless gerrymandering; the Crosscheck voter registration program, which baselessly purges legitimate voters; and wild distribution of provisional ballots at the polls (which, unbeknownst to most voters, are not required to be counted, and very often aren’t), are just three forms of voter suppression that we’ve seen on a wide scale around the country.

Here in Maine, faith in the integrity of our elections has certainly been eroded by the caucus format.

Although gleefully described by some as “bare-knuckle democracy,” caucuses actually disenfranchise massive numbers of voters. At caucuses, we must set aside hours to show up at a specified time and stay for hours to argue publicly for our candidates. Many voters simply do not have the time to give. Others (for example, those whose choice of candidate is at odds with that of their unions) are understandably hesitant to publicly announce their preference. Meanwhile, few, if any, venues exist that can hold a fraction of the voters who would easily be accommodated at multiple polling stations.

I was the volunteer secretary for my precinct in the 2016 Democratic caucus in Portland. It was my first experience with the caucus format. To say that I was dismayed is an understatement.

In the volunteer training, we’d been told that the organizers had “learned their lesson in 2008,” when voters had been forced to stand outside in the snow for hours. This year, our trainer said, they expected a crowd roughly the same size as 2008, and so had taken the necessary steps to prevent a similar fiasco. Great, I remember thinking; this is hardly their first rodeo, so I’m sure they know what to do.

Yet, come the day of the caucus, the only difference I could see between 2008 and 2016 was that this time it didn’t snow. Once again, voters stood in a half-mile-long line, in the frigid November weather, for upward of five hours. Finally, we let people simply drop off their ballots and head home. Meanwhile, we wondered how the 400 walk-in voters in our precinct had ever been expected to fit into a 20-foot-by-20-foot classroom!

I don’t say that there was intentional voter suppression going on in the 2016 Democratic caucus. I do say with certainty that the caucus damaged the credibility of our state’s electoral process for many, many people.

I suggest that it is time for the Maine Legislature to demonstrate a lot more respect for voters. Replacing caucuses with primaries is a solid start. Employing ranked-choice voting in our primary and general elections is another worthy step.

Ranked-choice voting worked extremely well in the 2018 midterms; in addition, it acted as an antidote to the vicious partisanship that has been poisoning U.S. politics for years. (It turns out that candidates hesitate to lose those important second-choice votes by insulting their competitors, so Mainers were freed from the usual assault of negative campaign advertising.) Expanding ranked-choice voting to the presidential election is a common-sense and easily executed next step in bringing our electoral process in line with the needs of the people.

A democracy is only as strong as its citizens’ belief in it. L.D. 1083 will help rebuild belief and respect in Maine elections, and it should be passed.


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