Thirty seven percent of registered voters in Maine are un-enrolled in a political party. Although they are often called “independent” voters, that name creates some confusion with the party that uses the word “independent” as part of its name: the Green Independent party. Unlike voters enrolled in a political party, the un-enrolleds cannot vote in a primary election (unless they choose to enroll in a party beforehand). Every registered voter, enrolled or un-enrolled, may vote in the general election (as did three quarters of area registered voters last time).
Typically, primaries were used to pick a party’s challenger to an opposing incumbent, or a party’s contestant for an open seat, and the election cycle outcome was determined by the general election. More recently (at least at the national level) primaries have been used to challenge incumbents, and because of the “safe district” gerrymandering of the parties, the general election results are more predictable and less susceptible to upset victories. Consequently, primary elections carry more weight as general elections carry less.
Some believe that the current Congressional gridlock is caused, in part, by the lesser number of moderate legislators due to the effect of primaries choosing candidates further from the middle. Congressional districts have been gerrymandered by both parties to create “safer districts” for decades. The same forces are at work at the state level where the recently completed redistricting in Maine has created “safer districts” for both major parties.
While both major parties espouse the principle of “one person – one vote”, an expression denoting a fundamental fairness concept that each of us have an equal role in determining electoral outcomes, their self-interests are served by the creation of “safe districts” to increase their influence. It is ironic that the mutually beneficial gerrymandering of districts to make them “safer” has the effect of reducing the weight of the votes of the largest block of voters, the un-enrolled voters, thus making their role less than equal in determining the outcome.
Naturally, the un-enrolled legislators in Maine had little say in the redistricting process and so it is not surprising that they were not favored in the changes agreed to by the two major parties. Of the four, two were put into districts with another incumbent and one with a district that changed ninety percent of his constituents.
What, if anything, can we do to prevent the Maine Legislature from heading in the same direction as the grid-locked national Congress?
One mechanism, vehemently opposed by the parties, would be to allow un-enrolled voters to participate in primary elections. A bill (LD 1422) presented in the session just completed would have established an open primary system. It did not receive a single vote in Committee and was thereby killed.
Are there any other mechanisms? Please let me know as I am eager to find a way to retain an equal weight for our un-enrolled voters.
Contact me by phone or email: 326-0899 chapmanHD37@gmail.com