Voting is the most fundamental expression of citizenship in our democracy. The expansion of the franchise to include all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, and the breaking down of barriers to voter participation — from literacy tests to the poll taxes — has been one of the great successes in the evolution of American democracy.
Gov. Paul LePage suggested that we roll back this progress to solve a problem that quite simply does not exist. While people rising from the cemetery to vote might make for a good zombie flick, it’s simply not happening in Maine.
“Fraud by individual voters is both irrational and extremely rare,” according to a 2006 Brennan Center for Justice policy brief. There is no documented wave or trend of individuals voting multiple times, voting as someone else, or voting even though they are ineligible.
A 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office concluded that “ few instances of in-person voter fraud” have been documented, and researchers at Loyola Law School recently reported finding only 31 cases of voter impersonation fraud out of 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014.
Voter ID laws counter one exceedingly rare kind of voter fraud — impersonating someone else at the polls. This doesn’t happen in Maine. The Maine secretary of state cites just two cases in recent years in which voters cast more than one ballot, and in both instances, the acts were caught, deemed unintentional and not prosecuted.
But the concept of rigged elections seems to go beyond voter fraud — even rampant voter fraud. It implies a conspiracy of political opponents to take over the machinery of vote counting. There is not one iota of evidence for that idea. And it would be incredibly difficult given the decentralized, citizen-based nature of how we conduct voting.
If you don’t believe it, ask your local clerk. They will tell you this is not happening here. They know the people in their communities, and we know them, too. They are our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors and friends.
So, what’s really going on here? Questioning the integrity of elections in Maine and at the national level does a serious disservice to the citizens of our democracy. We know that when voters become cynical about elections or believe that elections are rigged, they are less likely to turn out to vote. Attempts to undermine public confidence in elections reduce voter participation, civic engagement and trust in government. That is bad for democracy.
Democracy works better when more people participate. Here in Maine, our elections are administered by dedicated professionals in our communities who work hard to make sure that our elections are conducted with integrity. Elections in our towns are staffed with volunteers — our friends and neighbors — who give their time on Election Day to help every eligible voter cast a ballot.
Loose talk about how everyone cheats in elections has the effect of normalizing bad behavior. Let’s not go there. Cheating is not normal. It is not being done. We citizens remain vigilant and engaged, and elections work in Maine.
When you go to the polls on Nov. 8 or before, know your rights. If you are a U.S. citizen, 18 years old or older and reside in the community where you want to vote, you cannot be denied your right to vote. If you are not registered, you can register on Election Day. If you think you are registered but your name does not appear on the voter list, you can simply re-register right there. If you have trouble registering, you can sign an affidavit attesting to your qualifications and vote a challenged ballot, which will be counted on Election Day. If you have any trouble, you can call the Elections Division of the secretary of state’s office at 888-868-3763.
Voting is a right, not a privilege. As a matter of public policy, we must encourage every eligible voter to vote. Maine has some of the most effective voting laws in the country, and we enjoy one of the highest rates of voter participation among the 50 states.
Maine elections are sound. We encourage every eligible Mainer to get out and vote.
Jill Ward is president of the League of Women Voters of Maine.