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Bill Would Bring More Millennials, Veterans into Maine Primaries

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Roughly half of Maine millennials are independent or unenrolled voters. (Andre Popov/Adobe Stock)
Roughly half of Maine millennials are independent or unenrolled voters. (Andre Popov/Adobe Stock)
 By Lily Bohlke - Producer, Contact
April 15, 2021

AUGUSTA, Maine -- A bill before the Legislature would open Maine's primary elections to about one in three Maine voters who identify as independents or don't belong to a political party.

The Pine Tree State now has what are known as "closed" primaries. Only Democrats can vote in Democratic primaries, and only Republicans in GOP primaries.

Betsy Sweet, spokesperson for Open Primaries Maine, said with the recent increase in political polarization, opening the primary system would make for a stronger slate of candidates who would have to appeal to voters across the political spectrum.

"Big swaths of people that we all want to be involved. You and I, and all Mainers, 49% of veterans, 40% of currently enlisted people, over 50% of young people, and many, many union members and new Americans," Sweet outlined.

Sweet thinks open primaries would help build back trust in democracy.

Maine legislators on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee heard testimony on the bill, Legislative Document 231, this week.

Opponents worry it could allow voters of one party to cast their ballots for the person they want the candidate in the other party to face in the General Election.

Independent or unenrolled voters can join a party ahead of the primaries, but must stay enrolled for at least three months.

Lane Sturtevant, an independent voter from South Thomaston, pointed out including nonpartisan voters in the primaries would make them more likely to be engaged in the General Election as well.

"For every primary election, I wrestle with the question of whether I'm willing to sacrifice my independent voter status in order to vote for my preferred candidate," Sturtevant explained.

Another bill in the same committee, Legislative Document 1121, would create a single-primary ballot, establish a system of ranked-choice voting, and move the presidential primary from March to June, to line up with elections for Congress, the legislature and governor.

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