The biggest winner in Maine on Tuesday was public health.

By a rate of nearly 3-to-1, Maine voters upheld a new law that eliminates nonmedical exemptions from the vaccines required to enter school or to work in a day care or health facility.

Despite a well-financed campaign with energetic supporters, the people’s veto campaign went down to defeat in every part of the state, in a special election that had unusually high turnout.

The law will now go into effect in September 2021, providing families that are behind in their vaccine schedule time to work with health care providers to catch up. The new law will also give providers more leeway to approve medical exemptions for patients who cannot safely be vaccinated.

The hoped-for result would be 95 percent immunity or better on the most common infectious diseases, a crucial benchmark needed to establish the herd immunity that prevents diseases from spreading in a community.

Vaccine skeptics fought hard in Augusta to preserve religious and philosophical exemptions, putting intense pressure on lawmakers, who passed the bill last year by only a single vote.

But when the issue came to the voters, the near-unanimous support of medical and scientific authorities led to this lopsided victory.

The “Vote Yes” campaign leaders promised that they would keep on fighting vaccine requirements. 

But “Vote No” co-chairwoman Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a pediatrician from Yarmouth, took time at her victory party to urge compassion for their opponents, who she said are parents and neighbors who also are concerned about their children’s health.

It was the right note to end what had been a contentious campaign over an issue – public health – that should not be a partisan battleground.

PRIMARY PROCESS BIG IMPROVEMENT OVER CAUCUS

Four years ago, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won two-thirds of the vote in Maine, easily beating Hillary Clinton in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

On Tuesday, his share of the vote was cut in half, leading to his close second-place finish behind former Vice President Joe Biden, a surprise winner who did not campaign in the state at all.

This result doesn’t mean Sanders lost any support. But the two contests couldn’t have been more different.

In 2016, Maine was a caucus state, where organization and enthusiasm are more important than broad support. About 4,800 Democrats recorded a preference in 2016 for the presidential nomination, many standing outside in the bitter cold for hours waiting to participate.

When all the votes in Tuesday’s primary are counted, almost 200,000 voters will have had a chance to weigh in. 

The Legislature did the right thing last year, finally passing the bill that made Maine a primary state, not because of this election’s result, but because the process was much more democratic.

A vote for a presidential nominee is more than the support for a specific candidate. It’s also a referendum on the country’s values and priorities.

The questions raised in a presidential primary are too important to be left to a small number of activists. The primary law gave more Maine people an opportunity to participate and they took it.

SOME EARLY VOTERS LOST THEIR CHANCE TO TAKE PART

The biggest losers in the new primary might have been early voters.

Those who filled out an absentee ballot in the Democratic primary were offered the chance to vote for candidates Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, all candidates who have dropped out of the race since the Feb. 22 Nevada caucus, long after early voting had begun.

Some of those voters might have wanted to register a protest vote for a former candidate, but it’s likely that most of the people who took the time to fill out a ballot had intended to register a preference for someone who was still in the race.

There were 12 names on the ballot but only four active candidates when the polls opened Tuesday

Early absentee voting is important because work or other commitments mean that many people can’t vote on Election Day. But there is a way to protect their right to participate that was not available in this primary: ranked-choice voting.

If absentee voters had been given the chance to pick a second, third or fourth choice, their vote would have counted, even if their favorite had been eliminated.

Maine voters have shown that they like being able to rank their choices in races that have more than two candidates. Tuesday’s ballot showed what you lose when you can’t.

It’s time to end the confusion and expand the use of ranked-choice voting to all Maine elections.


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