Voting in Lewiston in 2020. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

It’s easy to shrug off voting.

Wary Mainers say it doesn’t matter, that they don’t have time, that nothing will change.

It’s something that many candidates have heard repeatedly along the campaign trail, including Maine independent gubernatorial contender Sam Hunkler.

Hunkler said that “many people have given up hope that your vote counts” and simply “accepted the dysfunction in our political system as the status quo which will not change.”

But political leaders and political scientists have a simple message for those who claim their votes don’t matter: You’re wrong.

They say America’s democratic roots require people to head to the polls and that the nation’s future depends on it.


“You need to vote because you matter and your future matters. It’s just that simple,” said Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline, a Democrat. “Do you have issues that you care about? Head to the polls. Your vote is validation that democracy works.”

Sen. Angus King AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

U.S. Sen. Angus King said that if young people voted at the same rate as their elders, “they could change the face of America.”

Over the last three decades, about half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 vote, according to U.S. Census data. The percentage of those 65 or older who cast a ballot is closer to 75%.

“Young people could change the direction of our country just by getting out and voting,” said King.

“If you don’t think it’s important,” the two-term independent Maine senator said, “look at the number of elections that are decided by a few votes here or there, whether it’s in your community, in your state or in the country.”

Shrugging off the option to vote isn’t just an issue of age. Many studies have found that better off and better educated Americans are much more likely to vote. The Brennan Center also figured that nationwide in 2020, 71% of eligible white Americans voted compared to 58% of nonwhite citizens, a gap that represents millions of votes across the land.


The skewed pattern of voting makes a difference, experts and officials agree.

“The more people that vote, the more the ideals espoused in local, state and federal government reflects the majority, not the minority,” Hunkler said.

James Melcher

“A representative democracy, or a democratic republic if you like, needs as representative a sample of its citizens as possible in order to represent them properly,” James Melcher, a political science professor at University of Maine at Farmington, said.

“To the extent there is distortion of that representativeness, the voice of the people goes unheard, and policy will leave those underrepresented out,” Melcher said.

Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College, said that “a healthy democracy depends on representatives reflecting the will of the people — and voting is the best means to express our views.”

“In the most practical sense one vote does not ‘matter,’” Maisel said. “How many elections are decided by one vote? But participating matters as it signifies that the voter is a part of the polity, shares in the view that the government can represent us.”


Also important, Melcher said, is that “voting engages people and motivates people to be involved in the process.”

“The right to vote is the hallmark of democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican. “It is what distinguishes our country from authoritarian regimes where free and fair elections do not exist.”

“So, get out, vote, join us,” King said. “Join this democracy; it’s not a spectator sport.”


Back in 1987, two men running for a town office in Cato, New York, wound up tallying the same number of votes on Election Day. By state law, that meant they had to draw straws to determine the victor.

After it was over, with a winner declared, the loser made a confession: In the hustle and bustle of the day, he had forgotten to cast his own ballot — thus sealing his defeat.


Tie votes happen on occasion in Maine as well, including a 1994 Naples town council race, a 1911 Ellsworth council race, and a 1967 state legislative race in Auburn.

“Maine elections are often determined by a handful of votes,” said Peggy Rotundo, a Lewiston Democrat seeking a state Senate seat. “Every vote counts and every vote is important.”

Jason Levesque

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, a Republican, said he knows better than most that “every vote truly counts” when people head to the polls. He won his first race in 2017 by just six votes.

Adam Lee, the Democrat who lost to Levesque, said the result was so close that it caused him to “regret tiny decisions I made here and there along the way, like that day in early October when I chose to stop knocking on doors early because it was cold, rainy, and windy and I was tired.”

Afterward, Lee said, he dug into the numbers more deeply to try to understand more fully what happened.

In the 2017 election in Auburn, he said, only 7,693 people voted out of the nearly 16,000 who were registered. Among those who cast a ballot, Lee discovered, 404 didn’t make a choice in the mayoral race and 49 others wrote someone in, though no official write-in candidates existed.


“Whether you think the results for the city have been good or bad over the past five years,” Lee said, “you can’t say that the results weren’t consequential.”

“And no matter what result you’re looking to create, your vote — especially in local and ‘down-ballot’ elections — most certainly matters,” said Lee, who is seeking a state House seat in the Nov. 8 election.

“The ultimate point is this: You really can affect the results of an election by voting. You also affect the results of an election by not voting,” he said.

“Wouldn’t you prefer to choose how you’re affecting the election rather than leave it to other people to make that choice for you?” Lee asked.

“Voting is the single most powerful tool to change our world,” Hunkler said. “Many people running this country are in power because only 30% of the eligible voters showed up. We have people who have remained in power for 30 years by winning with the support of a fraction of their constituents. “



King said that young people “tend not to vote as much as older people” and as a result “their voices aren’t really as loud” as they could be.

“They aren’t as heard,” King said.

Independent congressional hopeful Tiffany Bond said, “Voting and grassroots efforts are some of the best ways that folks who have decades ahead of them have to protect the future they deserve.”

Peggy Rotundo Submitted photo

“We all have values that are important to us,” Rotundo said. “Voting is a way to put those values into practice to create the world we want to live in and to create the world we want to leave behind for future generations.”

Levesque said it’s crucial that the electorate expands.

“We need young voters to weigh in as the decisions made today will truly affect you over the next 30-plus years,” he said.


An example of what’s at stake, he said, “is our current housing crisis, one in which zoning reform will allow more housing that’s affordable to be built.”

Levesque said the effort for housing reform “is being blocked primarily by older voters, who already live in homes bought decades ago at affordable prices and long since paid off, because they do not want neighbors, especially young ones with families.”

Bob McCarthy, a Lewiston city councilor who is running for the Maine House as a Republican, said, “The most important reason for young people to vote is the laws and direction that government is going will impact them for the rest of their lives.”

Bettyann Sheats, a Democrat in Auburn who is running for state Senate, said, “For young people especially, by not voting they are giving permission to lawmakers to be short-sighted. Politicians won’t focus on long-term solutions or the issues young people do unless their jobs, and their income, depend on it.”

“As long as they cater to older voters, who do vote at high rates, the focus will be on issues older folks care about,” Sheats said.

“America only works if the people, especially young people, make an affirmative choice to participate and make it work,” said U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat. “No matter your politics, voting is a positive thing you can do to make your community and your country a little bit better.”


McCarthy urged people to take the time “to research the candidates and align themselves with those that best represent their beliefs.”

McCarthy also said their interest should continue after Election Day, too, by following “what is going on in Augusta and Washington” and by “voicing their support or displeasure with the action taken by their representatives.”

The bottom line, he said, is that people “can make a difference if they try.”


Lewiston City Councilor Rick LaChappelle said civics used to be a crucial part of everyone’s education.

Rick LaChappelle Submitted photo

From those long-ago classes, he said, he learned “it is my responsibility as an American and my duty as an American to uphold our republic” and “to get out there and let my voice be heard.”


LaChappelle, a Republican seeking a state Senate seat, said he hears from people along the campaign trail that they don’t see the value in voting. It’s not easy to convince them otherwise, he said.

The apathy that keeps so many away from the polls, he said, is one reason “you get people in office who shouldn’t be in office.”

“It is just imperative that we vote,” LaChappelle said. The country, he said, is “a beacon to the world” because in the United States, the people rule.

A great many Americans have died for that ideal, several officials said.

“We can never forget that Arlington National Cemetery is full of people who gave their lives to protect our right to vote,” said Brent Littlefield, a political consultant for Republican candidates.

Sheats, a veteran, called voting “a patriotic duty.”


If people have ever told a veteran “thank you for your service,” they “should put their actions where their mouth is and vote,” she said.

“I served to protect the rights of others,” Sheats said. “The right to cast a vote in a truly free election is the right that makes the USA so unique. Whether or not they vote for me, the best way they can thank me for my service is by getting informed and voting.”

“At every level of government in our country — from town select boards to the presidency — democracy isn’t on autopilot,” Golden said. “The more each of us sits back and tunes out, the harder it is to take the wheel back when something we care about is threatened or proposed.”

Scott Harriman, a city councilor in Lewiston, said that “in the past few years, this country has seen a disturbing rise in the number of people — including elected officials — who publicly undermine our democratic principles and express their support for authoritarianism.”

“I do not want the United States to follow the trend that many other countries have: away from democracy and toward strongman rule,” he said.

“Every American should consider it their patriotic duty to stand up for our system of government by voting for candidates who will listen to the people and who will uphold the principles we hold dear, including free elections, representative democracy and the concept that everyone is equal under the law,” Harriman said.



James M. Cook, a sociology professor at the University of Maine at Augusta, said it is “not uncommon for political scientists to declare that they don’t vote.”

James M. Cook

“Their thinking goes like this: The likelihood that their particular, single, individual vote will decide the outcome of an election is vanishingly small,” he said. “Therefore, it’s not worth their time and effort to vote, because the outcome of the election won’t be changed by the act of a particular, single, individual vote.”

Cook said those experts “are thinking about voting as an individual act that usually doesn’t have the capacity to change the entire outcome of an election.”

“But that’s the whole idea of democracy: that one person shouldn’t be able to determine an outcome,” he said.

“The power of democracy does not lie in ‘Me the Person,’ but in ‘We the People.’


“A single person probably will not make the difference, but by voting together, we the people can make a difference,” Cook said.

He said, “Voting in a democracy is not meant to be a dictatorial act of a single individual, but a collective, social act of a large group of people working together seeking to change the world for the better.”

“By not just voting, but telling one another that we’re voting, we support and strengthen the social system of civic participation upon which democracy relies,” Cook said.

King told potential voters, “We need your involvement and you can make a real difference.”

Collins said that American citizens “have an obligation to be active and informed participants in our government.”

“I was born into a family with a strong tradition of public service. Both of my parents served as mayor of Caribou, and they taught me that you could make a difference if you got involved, but that you had no right to complain if you stayed on the sidelines,” said the five-term senator.


Melcher pointed out that after the constitutional convention in 1787, someone asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government the delegates had created for the nascent United States.

“A republic,” Franklin famously answered, “if you can keep it.”

“As the public votes on far more than it did in Franklin’s day,” Melcher said, “it is necessary that voters do the work of civic engagement — and that includes voting.”

“Voting is how we make our voices heard,” Collins said. “Every ballot counts, and I urge all Mainers to take the time to vote on November 8th.”

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