State of Maine: Independents step up despite continued block at ballot box



The March 3 election is a wrap, and it’s on to June. In the first Maine presidential primary (as opposed to caucuses) in 20 years, turnout was hot. Early estimates put it at 45 percent.

Headlines calling 45 percent turnout “massive” are an American phenomenon. In most other countries that have elections turnout is in the 80s or 90s, percentage-wise. Not so in the United States, where Maine, among the best states for voter turnout, did not see half of its voters come to the polls.

One factor in this great but not-so-great turnout is that more than one-third of Maine’s registered voters (35 percent) are “independent” (unenrolled) and not permitted to participate in primary elections. Well, they are welcome to “participate” when it comes to paying for the primaries with tax dollars.

About half the states restrict voters in primary elections. Funny that the same party (you know who you are) whose members have a hissy fit about having to join a union or at least pay dues are quick to tell independent voters to “just join a party” if they want to vote in a primary.

It is notable that although they did not get to vote in a primary, unenrolled voters still turned out in force for the single question on which they could vote, the citizen referendum to preserve philosophical and religious exemptions for childhood vaccines.

As opting out of having children vaccinated increased, Maine law was changed in 2019 to eliminate exemptions, keeping only the medical exemption. That passed on a near party line vote in the Legislature, but the results last Tuesday did not indicate such a partisan divide. The initiative was rejected by 73 percent of voters, going down to defeat in every single Maine county with margins as wide as five to one, well above the difference in party registrations.

In the presidential primary, Maine Republicans had only one choice, incumbent President Donald Trump. He won. For Democrats, 12 candidates were on the ballot, but several had bowed out before voting day. More, including all of those who did not reach double digits, were gone shortly thereafter. Maine Democrats liked Biden.

Two candidates claimed over two-thirds of the vote between them and within days everyone else was gone except for the mysterious Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. representative from Hawaii and veteran of two tours of duty in the Middle East. She has won just two delegates so far and she’s polling at 1 percent (she’s undaunted), the DNC has raised the bar for debate participation to one she probably can’t clear (she’s protesting), and she is the only woman still on the ballot.

Maine had its electoral moment in the sun by being one of the last states to announce Super Tuesday results. We were counting slowly and carefully. Now we are a flyover state, though we’re hardly worth flying over since that only gets you to New Hampshire or the Atlantic Ocean.

As worries over the coronavirus take control of the national attention, flyover states have some advantages. Avoid crowds? Other than the basketball tournament, we would be hard pressed to assemble a crowd at this time of year in Maine. We are not big fans of public touching. We may need an update of our sneeze etiquette, since our customary response to a sneeze often involves a Carhartt sleeve. Don’t do that.

As for the numero uno best practice, frequent hand washing for 20 seconds, come on. You don’t always and certainly not for that long. Twenty seconds is about how long it will take a back-to-the-lander to sing the first verse of “Inch by Inch, Row by Row” or, for Red Sox fans, the chorus of “Sweet Caroline,” including the “so goods” and the “bop bop bas.” Don’t try to get patriotic, the Pledge of Allegiance takes just 10 seconds to recite. Religion doesn’t work in this case either. The Lord’s Prayer? Fifteen seconds.

Deep dive for the curious: a 20-second soap and water wash lifts the germs right off you. A hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol-based just smears them around, but if your paws are left to air dry (and you’ve used the right amount per the label) it will kill many germs.

It is no laughing matter, this virus, but it is not cause for pandemonium either. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is putting up “guidance” every day. Local authorities are doing their best to keep communities safe.

Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. If you’re coughing or sneezing, stay home. Don’t touch other people, and don’t touch stuff a lot of other people have handled. Toss Kleenex promptly and don’t leave dirty dishes and utensils sitting around. This will pass. Until it does, keep your guard up and stay healthy.

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.

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