62 percent of Mainers think elected officials more concerned with party than voters

Before anyone calls me a hypocrite, yes, I am about to write a post that includes thoughts from a national political organization, Open Primaries. As the name suggests, this group advocates for opening the full electoral process to all voters around the country, regardless of their party status.

The movement is based on the singular premise found on their site:

No American should be required to join a political party to exercise their right to vote. (Openprimaries.org)

Yes, I’ve constantly ranted about too many big money special interest groups invading Maine’s politics, but this situation is different. The only group that will benefit from the influence of Open Primaries in our state is Maine’s largest voting bloc:  un-enrolled  voters.

Of course, those of us of this certain persuasion believe all citizens will benefit from fully enfranchising all voters. Open primaries would force candidates to reach out to a broader cross-section of voters during the early stage of the election process, decreasing the likelihood that extreme left or right views would succeed.

Registered Republican Joe Pickering of the new, grassroots Mainers for Open Elections thinks open primaries will make the parties healthier for that same reason.  Open primaries are a way to force a more responsive connection between the parties and broader coalitions of voters — I’d like to think maybe even undermining the influence of big money a bit.

Pickering thinks all citizens should support “voter freedom at every level of our American election system.” He referenced a poll done by Open Primaries that suggests most Maine voters, 62 percent, do.

The poll itself is mind-boggling, and I would encourage readers to click here to read it. Among it’s highlights:

  • 62 percent of Mainers “think elected officials in Maine do what’s best for their political parties” rather than what’s best for voters (28 percent).
  • 81 percent when respondents think the same of congressional leaders.
  • A combined 62 percent of respondents think leaders of Maine government have been “not too successful” or “not successful at all” at “bringing people in the state together.”
  • A whopping combined 82 percent of respondents think congressional leaders have been “not too successful” or “not successful at all” at “bringing people in the country together.”
  • Respondents represented a cross-section of voters — 32 percent Democrat, 27 percent Republican, 41 percent Independent/other.

John Opdycke, president of Open Primaries, found the poll results compelling as well.  He thinks Maine is poised to be among the national leaders when it comes to this movement. Opdycke said, “Maine has a history of being interested in these issues, of not sweeping them under the rug.”

Opdycke even schooled me some on just how rare we are. I had never really given much thought to the way candidates names are listed alphabetically on our ballots, regardless of party-affiliation. Voters end up scanning over all the names while voting rather than just focusing on one party’s section.

Opdycke pointed out the contrast to other states where the candidates names appear in categorized groupings organized left to right — for example, the Democrat column on the left, the Republican column in the center, and third party candidates to the far right.

We quipped about such ballots literally putting so-called “fringe candidates” on the fringe.

I told both gentlemen I had a fundamental belief that Americans are not as divided as the parties and media portray them to be. I suggested that I thought certain rhetoric and certain dog whistle-type topics like abortion force divisions that may not be so profound in other areas, but keep us from making progress in those other areas.

Pickering and Opdycke agreed with my belief.

Opdyke said he believed the “American people are much more connected, much more open to building with their friends, neighbors, and fellow countrymen” than they are currently portrayed. Opdycke added, “ The political establishment is interested in putting citizens in silos, pitting them against each other — it’s easier to win elections that way.”

Opdycke said, “It’s easier to demonize and divide that it is to unite and create.” Open primaries are a way to change that equation.

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I was under the weather last week, so I didn’t get a chance to follow up with Reps. Ackley and Casas regarding their proposed legislation to open primaries in Maine.  Online I see the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted on the proposal on March 24, resulting in a divided report.

While that result is sufficient to get LD 76 to the legislature for a vote, it was kind of disappointing. I had hoped the committee charged with overseeing the best interests of veterans in Maine might have seen things differently, given the large numbers of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who aren’t affiliated with a party.

Granted, I may be biased as an un-enrolled voter myself and as someone whose appreciation for veterans runs pretty deep; however, I can’t help but think folks who agree to die for our country deserve to participate in every stage of our electoral process. I think it’s disrespectful to dictate that they must join a party in order to do so.

I hope the legislature considers open primaries with a more open collective mind.

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I listened online to a VLA hearing on another open primary proposal, LD 1086. To the best of my knowledge, proposal is intended to open primaries and establish top-two tier ballots for major offices, in which the two candidates receiving the most votes move onto the final election regardless of party.

I have only skimmed the language of the measure, and I think top-two tier races are an intriguing idea to consider. I do think Mainers are ready for changes to our process that would result in more desirable leadership, but too many changes at once might be a tough sell. For right now, I’d settle for open primaries.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.