AUGUSTA – Who can vote in what primaries – that’s what some state lawmakers are considering.
Currently Maine uses a closed primary system, meaning you have to be enrolled in that party to vote in their primary election. One state representative, who isn’t enrolled in either the Democrat or the Republican party, is looking to change that.
“Insisting that someone has to associate with a party in order to exercise their vote is nonsensical,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kent Ackley, I – Monmouth.
Rep. Ackley wants to get rid of closed primaries in Maine. His bill, that had a public hearing Wednesday, would allow unenrolled Mainers one vote to cast in one primary of their choosing.
The representative said currently 38 percent of Mainers are unenrolled in any political party.
“They’re independent for a reason. They don’t find value in associating with one of the political parties,” said Rep. Ackley.
It’s an idea that’s come up before and is already in place in some states. But some lawmakers expressed concerns about opening up primaries.
“I think it should be up to the party to pick their candidates, and not let somebody who is not in that party choose who gets to represent that party in the general election,” said Rep. Scott Strom, R – Pittsfield.
Lawmakers said no citizens testified against the bill.
Another argument for open primaries, is it allows all taxpayers to take part in the elections they finance.
“They’re paying for it. They own it, they ought to participate,” said Rep. Ackley.
Lawmakers said they don’t believe this issue will be along party lines. One Democrat said he began the public hearing thinking Maine should keep closed primaries.
“We all pay for education and some of us don’t have any children so there are things that taxes pay for that we don’t get any benefit from,” said Rep. John Schneck, D – Bangor. “I could be moved, so I’m on the fence on this one.”
And Republican Rep. Strom said while he believes it should be left to the parties, he doesn’t like unenrolled Mainers paying for something they can’t participate in.
“They’re paying for it with their taxes so I think that’s maybe a way for the parties to think maybe should stick with caucuses,” said Rep. Strom.
If the bill were to pass through the full legislature, it would apply to elections starting in 2021.