Well, the primary’s over. At this moment, I don’t know who won. Maybe it was too close to call, and nobody else knows who won either. But my deadline to submit this column each week is Tuesday, and we were still casting ballots at that time.
At this point the national buzz is that there’s a big anti-incumbent wave sweeping through the electorate — but that won’t make a difference in the governor’s race unless it translates to a big anti-politics-as-usual wave.
There are a number of big unanswered questions. Will Maine repeal all kinds of new sales taxes, and who have the Republicans and Democrats chosen for their gubernatorial candidates, not to mention what will the turnout be like?
One thing I am pretty sure of — even without the supporting data — is there weren’t enough votes cast for anyone in the governor’s primary races to say anything decisive about the will of the people. Except for maybe that the people don’t care and-or didn’t think they mattered to the candidates in the first place. Low voter turnout certainly will mean that.
When I say low voter turnout, I mean less than 50 percent. And that’s likely to be the high end of the various county thresholds. There’s a darn good reason why folks don’t care and don’t think they matter. It’s that our legislators have passed laws that make the average Mainer pretty irrelevant.
More Mainers are unenrolled than belong to any one of the established parties. But they won’t be able to weigh in on the party candidates unless they bow to the will of one party or another and join. And the result is that one of the likely winners of the race in November will have started the general election campaign with only a sliver of bona fide support.
I don’t have real numbers, so I’ll use educated guesses to illustrate what happened yesterday. First, 33 percent of Maine voters are Democrats. Let’s say 50 percent of them voted yesterday, and the race was pretty evenly split with the winner taking 28 percent of the vote. Well, if we take 50 percent of 33 percent and multiply that by 28 percent, that means that one of the two candidates likely to become governor carried the primary endorsement of 4.62 percent of Maine voters.
But it gets even worse. Let’s say 50 percent of Republican voters go to the polls. Then we have to multiply the percentage of Maine Republicans — 27 by the same 50, and then multiply it again by the percent he takes — and in a seven-way race let’s guess 21 percent. The great Republican hope in November will have the prior support of a whopping 2.8 percent of Maine voters.
Thank goodness some independents will be on the general election ballot because this sort of winner-take-all slanted game — that the politically incestuous major party players have arranged — pretty much guarantees that a decent candidate did not come out of yesterday’s election.
Maine voters put up with the major parties giving them such minimally vetted leaders because they don’t know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Ever since the ballot access laws of the 19th century started coming into being, the two major parties have rigged the game to protect themselves and lock out any other voice. They diligently passed laws that perpetuate this disproportional power, laws such as the one here in Maine that denies independents the right to vote in party primaries.
Go to BallotAccess.com and learn what other states do to increase voter participation and assure majority voice. You’ll learn of states that do a much better job enfranchising the people.
Monday, a political pundit told me that folks shouldn’t benefit from the club if they aren’t part of the club. And that someone could become a Democrat or Republican long enough to cast a vote and then unenroll again. Let’s face it, that sort of forced commitment to get what you want — like increased party enrollment — is dishonest.
Maine’s political parties use the same tactics as the boy depicted in Meat Loaf’s ’70s classic “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Political participation by coercion is deceitful — and we end up with desperate choices instead of genuine ones.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@ hotmail.com.