ELLSWORTH — On March 3, Maine Democrats and Republicans will cast ballots in the state’s first presidential primaries in 20 years.
Maine’s primaries are closed, meaning only voters enrolled in a political party can vote in that party’s primary. All voters, however, will be eligible to vote March 3 in a special statewide referendum on whether or not to reinstate religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions (see sidebar).
For unenrolled voters who want to participate in a party primary, there’s still time.
“Voters who are currently unenrolled, or who are registering to vote for the first time, can choose to enroll in a party at any time, up to and including Election Day,” according to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.
Mainers who were enrolled in the Libertarian, Socialist or Alliance political parties are considered unenrolled, as those parties have not met the state’s party qualification standards. Those voters are eligible to enroll as Republicans or Democrats if they wish to participate in either of those presidential primaries.
For voters seeking to change their party enrollment, there is a 15-day waiting period before the voter may cast a ballot in that party’s primary. This year, the deadline falls on Feb. 17.
Maine Republicans will have just one choice on the primary ballot: President Donald Trump.
In the Democratic presidential primary, there are 12 names on the ballot. Two of the candidates — Cory Booker and Marianne Williamson — withdrew from the race in January, after the Dec. 23, 2019, deadline for filing in Maine had passed. The other candidates are Joseph Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Peter Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, Bernie Sanders, Thomas Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang.
Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said votes for candidates who have withdrawn from the race will be counted as blank.
Ranked choice voting, in which voters rank candidates in contested races of three or more candidates in order of preference, will not be used in the Democratic presidential primary March 3. Governor Janet Mills’ decision to allow the bill to become law without her signature means the law will not go into effect until 90 days after the current Legislative session ends.
“In the case of the presidential primary, the purpose is not to elect an individual or to choose electors for president, but to allow the party using the primary system to apportion delegates to its convention,” Mills said in a memo to the Legislature in September. “Even without this bill, however, the parties could still use ranked-choice voting, or some similar process, in the selection of delegates.”
Meanwhile, state Republicans have launched a petition drive to put a question on repealing the use of RCV in presidential elections on the November ballot.
If enough signatures are collected prior to the deadline, the RCV law will be stayed until after the vote, Muszynski said, meaning RCV would not be used in the November 2020 election.
Maine voters have twice supported ranked choice voting. The initial law was approved at the ballot box in 2016. Voters overturned a legislative repeal in 2018.
The Republican and Democratic parties will still caucus in municipalities across Maine. Democrats will caucus on March 8. A list is available at https://my.mainedems.org/caucus/index. Republican caucus dates vary by town. A list is available at https://mainegop.com/caucus/. A list of Hancock County caucuses is included at the end of this article.
“We will use the municipal caucuses to elect delegates and alternates to the Maine Democratic State Convention based on attendees’ presidential preference,” according to the Maine Democrats’ website. “At the State Convention these delegates, within their presidential preference, will elect the people that will fill the national delegate slots awarded to qualifying presidential campaigns.”
“The presidential primary results, on the other hand, will determine how Maine distributes its national delegates among the presidential candidates.”
The Maine GOP on its website explains that “The Maine Republican Party Caucuses are gatherings of Republican friends and neighbors run by the county and municipal committees. The local leaders and choice-makers of the Maine Republican Party are elected at the caucus. The caucuses are the organizational foundation of the Maine Republican Party, giving Republicans like you the opportunity to shape the party and help determine our direction in 2020.”
Maine’s state primary election will be held Tuesday, June 9. Primary elections determine each party’s nomination of candidates for federal offices (other than president) and state and county offices. Party candidates who are elected at the primary qualify to appear on the November general election ballot.
The deadline for qualification for the June primary ballot is March 16.
Hancock County party caucuses that have been announced so far are as follows:
Bar Harbor, Feb. 27, Jack Russell’s Steak House & Brewery, 5 p.m. registration, 6 p.m. caucus
Mount Desert, Feb. 15, Mount Desert Town Hall, 10 a.m. registration, 11 a.m. caucus
Democrats: All caucuses are on Sunday, March 8. Doors typically open 30 minutes to an hour in advance, depending on the location.
Bar Harbor, Connors-Emerson School gym, 2 p.m.
Cranberry Isles, Islesford Neighborhood House, 1 p.m.
Mount Desert, Somesville Fire Station, 1 p.m.
Southwest Harbor, American Legion, 1 p.m.
Tremont, Tremont town office, 2 p.m.
Trenton, Trenton Town Office, 2 p.m.
ELLSWORTH — A statewide referendum March 3 will ask voters whether they want to repeal a law that eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccinations.
The question will be “Do you want to reject the new law that removes religious and philosophical exemptions to requiring immunization against certain communicable diseases for students to attend schools and colleges and for employees of nursery schools and health care facilities?”
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap announced this past October that his office had certified the signatures of 79,056 registered Maine voters on a petition seeking to reinstate exemptions, enough to get the issue put to a people’s referendum on the March 3 ballot.
The people’s veto petition was submitted to Dunlap’s office on Sept. 18, 2019, to prevent the vaccine law from taking effect the following day.
A number of Hancock County residents testified at a public hearing on the law last March. Most were opposed to eliminating vaccine exemptions. Many cited a desire for autonomy in parental decision-making and called for further research into the efficacy of vaccines, despite the conclusion of most medical experts that, on the whole, vaccines are safe and effective.
Maine’s non-medical vaccination opt-out rate reached an all-time high last year, according to the CDC, climbing to 5.6 percent, which is nearly triple the national average for kindergartners in 2016-2017. Medical exemptions doubled, from 0.3 to 0.6 percent.
Proponents of the repeal have peppered “Reject Big Pharma” signs across the state.
“Their campaign is masquerading itself as opposition to ‘Big Pharma,’ but, really, pharmaceutical companies hardly benefit at all from producing vaccines,” said Governor Janet Mills in a statement urging Mainers to vote no on Question 1. “In trying to target so-called Big Pharma, whom nobody really likes, their campaign is purposefully trying to conflate vaccinations with other issues like the opioid epidemic when these issues are distinctly different.”