Among the most damning evidence that the American system of governing is failing to live up to its promise is the nation’s perennial poor voting rates.
The last time national turnout topped 60 percent was in 1968, a year in which presidential candidate Robert Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King were assassinated, police wantonly beat protesters on live TV outside the Democratic National Convention and U.S. deaths in the Vietnam War reached what would be a peak of 16,592.
Since then, turnout in national elections has ranged from a low of 38.4 percent (1986 and 1998) to a high of 56.8 percent in 2008. That high turnout, in the election that put Democrat Barack Obama in the White House and broadened Democratic majorities in Congress, may have inspired Republicans around the country — and in Maine — to want to tighten ballot access.
Remember the outrage about the community action group ACORN registering voters? Those voters were largely young, members of an ethnic minority or impoverished. Those groups often don’t vote, for lots of reasons: they move from apartment to apartment, they’re busy juggling a couple of jobs, they don’t have transportation and they aren’t educated on the issues. But Democrats have been better able to persuade those groups they represent their interests.
So on one hand, it’s no wonder tightening ballot access is on the Republican agenda. But at the same time, Maine Republicans should be mindful of their small window to enact a limited agenda. Should slamming the ballot box closed on college students’ hands be on that short list?
On Wednesday, Maine Secretary of State Charles Summers said his investigation into claims by Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster that college students were voting illegally here failed to find dirt. What he did find was that 77 Maine college students were registered in Maine and another state in 2008 and 2010.
This is not a smoking gun. About ten years ago, a BDN reporter found he was registered to vote in three Maine towns, places he had lived at various times in his career (he certainly didn’t vote in all three towns). Until a system is implemented that automatically purges voters from one town when they register in another, such scenarios will remain common.
Mr. Summers found no evidence the students voted in both places in the same election. He did find that five students voted in one election in their home state and in another election in Maine. He suggested that was less than patriotic.
Such a comment insults all young adults, who move frequently and — we hope — transform their sense of identity from being a resident of another state to being a Maine resident. We need more college-educated young adults here, and accusing them of being unpatriotic is giving them a cold shoulder.
Technology ought to be tapped to improve Maine’s election system. But we need more people voting. A president who wins office with 54 percent of the vote is actually winning with something closer to a third of the nation’s eligible voters. And since it is usually the same third, this makes it easier for politicians to curry their favor.
The GOP voter fraud train is off the rails. Let’s leave it there.