Don’t read this. It is too much to ask of anyone as we put our towns back together after the Fourth. Cut it out and put it in your sock drawer, then read it along about October.
The subject is the referendum questions on which Mainers will vote next fall. It is an appropriate topic around Independence Day because it is a way in which we Mainers have preserved the liberty of taking certain decisions into our own little hands. Never mind that when we have the enviable opportunity of self-governance, we ignore it. Rant alert: we’re talking about voter turnout here.
As a nation, we are fond of our rights. We spend an inordinate amount of time fulminating about our right to this and our right to that, our right to arm ourselves in our homes and schools and places of business, what bathroom to use and who may use it with us, whether all of us or just some of us should get food or health care. When it comes to voting on those things, or electing the people who will make those decisions, we can’t be bothered.
For all of the crowds we see roaring about taking back our country, making America great again and cheering the repeal of their own best chance at health care, those same people (and many others) did not vote in the June primary.
How do we know that? Because statistically, with a voter turnout of less than 20 percent, they couldn’t have. Not all of them; not even most of them. Busy. Forgot. Working. No child care. No car. No time. No use.
So those hats should read: “Somebody Else Should Make America Great Again” or “Call Me When America Is Great Again.”
Now that fewer than 10 percent of Maine voters have determined the candidates for state legislative seats, we will show up in droves to pick one of them in the fall. People! The widest choice was in the primary. Why didn’t you show up then? (Independents are excused.)
If you did not vote in June but put bunting on your porch for the Fourth of July, wore your red, white and blue hat, or gave your kids little flags to wave at the parades, shame on you.
A big show of patriotism on the Fourth does not make America great. Voting makes America great.
OK, the referendum votes. The secretary of state has now finalized the wording of the five questions following a public comment period, and the order in which they appear on the ballot has been determined by random draw.
There are five referenda. Question 1 would legalize marijuana, Question 2 would tax incomes above $200,000 to increase education funding, Question 3 would require background checks on most gun sales, Question 4 would raise the minimum wage, and Question 5 would establish ranked-choice voting. (Find all the details at maine.gov/sos.)
Maine’s constitution provides the opportunity for citizens, by petition, to directly initiate legislation. It is being used with increasing frequency, with the 2016 ballot presenting the largest number ever in a single election.
For questions of the “yes/no” sort, it is a suitable means to make a decision that allows all voters to weigh in. On this ballot, the marijuana, background checks and minimum wage questions are appropriate for a public vote.
Question 5 gets a little dicey, because altering the form of elections gets complicated, but it is exactly the kind of question on which all of us, not just our elected officials, should express our opinions. The ranked-choice voting campaign has been engaged in an energetic education campaign for months, reaching out to the public in a variety of ways to help the electorate understand what the new process would look like.
Question 2 is least suited for a referendum. It offers the enticement of sticking it to the well-off and increasing school funding without adding to the tax burden for the rest of us. However, there is no real guarantee that this fund will be inviolate, any more than the existing law that the state must provide 55 percent of school funding has been followed.
One of the objections to referendum elections is that they have become a tool of wealthy, out-of-state interests looking to add another notch to their gun in a national battle. True, a ton of outside money may be targeted at Maine. But Maine voters are not easily swayed. Just because it is a matter of national interest does not mean Mainers do not have their own opinions, and they are not shy about expressing them.
The initiative for background checks on most gun sales is not, as some have claimed, a Michael Bloomberg enterprise. There are plenty of Mainers, many of them responsible gun owners and even dealers, who are passionate about additional security on the transfer of firearms.
It may be summer now, but when the leaves begin to turn, we have a job to do. Our performance in June was miserable; if citizens could be fired, we would be unemployed. Chances are voters will turn out in huge numbers in November. Plan to be among them.