Capitol Notebook: Maine election process survives, thrives, despite LePage

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I plan to resist the call from party activists to vote early by absentee ballot. I like to show up at the local polling place on Election Day, talk with neighbors, review referendum petitions, and talk politics. I may run into local politicians who will, of course, seek my opinion.

And with new information and arguments sharpening on this year’s crucial referendum questions, my decision may go down to the last minute.

I will revel in the fact that our 18-month presidential campaign nightmare has finally ended.

But the worst part of this torturous campaign is the Republican attack on the integrity of the voting system.

They have attacked the voting process, with both Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage raising the spectre of rigged or fraudulent elections. Trump has given up all talk of the issues, instead reciting a mantra that “the election is rigged.” He has stoked doubts that he will accept the election results.

Warming to Trump’s theme, LePage also cast doubt on Maine’s election outcome. LePage said he was “not confident of a clean election” in Maine, and predicted that people from the cemeteries would be voting.

Pushing a familiar Republican theme, LePage charged that Maine election problems stem from the state’s lack of a voter ID requirement at the polls. This issue has been long debated here and elsewhere, as Republicans argue the need for voter identification at the polls. (Identification, as well as proof of address, is required to register.)

LePage wants the state to issue cards to people so that they could vote.

A voter ID law was proposed in LePage’s first term, but it failed in the Legislature Lawmakers then created a commission, led by John Atwood, which recommended against voter ID by a 4-1 vote.

The commission found “little or no history in Maine of voter impersonation or identification fraud.” That commission also found that voter ID requirements would slow down the election process, and potentially disenfranchise poor and rural voters. Also serving on that commission was Republican appointee Paula Silsby, a former federal prosecutor for Maine.

Republicans in 2012 also raised the spectre of voter fraud. Former party Chairman Charlie Webster famously warned of “dozens of black people” showing up in rural Maine to vote, without providing any further proof or explanation.

Voter ID laws have not panned out well in some other places. In Pennsylvania in 2012, a Republican legislative leader drew applause from his fellow Republicans when he crowed that a new voter ID law would deliver the state to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. A judge set the law aside, noting that there was a large gap between the apparent number of registered voters, and the number of ID cards the state had been able to issue.

In casting a wide net of doubt over Maine’s elections, LePage has expressed a lack of confidence in a system that relies on the hard-working town clerks and election wardens who run the local balloting.

In another bid to restrict voting early in his tenure, LePage signed a bill that would have ended same-day voter registration. A people’s veto effort overturned that legislation.

The experience of voting itself should bind us, and not be a political football that divides. There are bigger issues that could be worked on to improve our election system, including limiting the funds that can flow into political action committees attempting to influence the election outcomes.

But money doesn’t always control the outcome, it is still the voters. A ton of money poured into Maine to support new bear hunting restrictions in 2014, yet the effort failed.

The voters still rule. See you at the polls.

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.

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