In so many ways, Maine sets an example for the rest of our country. It is full of kind-hearted, hard-working people who work together to find solutions to difficult problems. And — despite the noise around ranked-choice voting in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District — Maine’s election laws are no exception.
Maine law enables fair and full voting access to all of its people through practices of same-day voter registration, in-person absentee voting and absentee-voting by mail without a reason. This, coupled with the passion and knowledge of the Maine electorate, is reflected in Maine’s turnout in elections. In 2016 Maine had the second highest election turnout in the country, the highest turnout east of the Mississippi.
In the rest of the country, this is not the case. After 2013, when the Roberts Supreme Court struck down key components of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, other states began building barriers between their residents and the ability to vote. Ostensibly, these new policies were put in place to “protect the sanctity of elections from the risk of voter fraud,” but rampant voter fraud is a myth. The facts do not back it up.
And 2020 may be the last chance to stop this trend.
Maine’s elected officials have a duty to act in the best interest of the voters in Maine. Securing consistent access to the polls in the rest of our country is paramount to the success of Maine’s future. A world where minority rule is allowed anywhere will serve to deepen our political divisions and prevent our country — and as a result our state — from continued progress on the issues that truly matter, like health care, infrastructure, our environment and economic prosperity.
To accomplish this, Democrats must secure the U.S. Senate and the White House in 2020. If that does not happen, it will take 20 years or more for the demographic and ideological pendulum to swing far enough to overcome the structural advantages being put in place in other states.
In 2020, Maine must vote as it always has — freely and fairly for the candidate who best represents a compelling vision for Maine’s people and its future. In the rest of the country, voters will face more difficult circumstances. They will suffer secretaries of state closing polling places in minority neighborhoods and moving the only remaining location far away from public transportation. They will suffer calls from the bully pulpit of the White House suggesting that by voting you are putting yourself at risk of arrest. They will vote under these circumstances one last time in order to never vote that way again.
With a Democratic House, Senate and White House in 2020, there could be a reform to voting laws to require consistent precinct hours within a state. There could be nationwide automatic registration when citizens receive their IDs. There could be consistent use of Election Day voter registration. There could be consistent availability of early/absentee voting to reduce lines and enable people to vote at their own time in the comfort of their own home. And yes, secretaries of state could be required to provide their data from previous elections to justify their allocation of precious election resources to ensure equal access to the polls.
Our current electoral system is unfair to so many, and Maine must once again lead by example. The American people deserve to have their voices heard — each and every one of them. In the very first article of the Constitution, our founders contemplated this crisis in writing that “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.” Our founders foresaw a world where federal intervention would be required to ensure the fairness and soundness of our elections, and that world has arrived.
Nat Hewett is a 2007 graduate of John Bapst Memorial High School who grew up in Holden. He lives in Chicago.