AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate passed a bill Tuesday from Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, that would create semi-open primaries in Maine.
LD 231, “An Act to Create Semi-Open Primaries,” received strong bipartisan support, with a vote of 27-7.
“Maine voters have a strong independent streak that we’re rightly proud of. We know that where a person stands on important issues is much more important than what party they belong to. That also means we have a large number of unenrolled voters who have been forced to sit out of primary elections,” said Sen. Maxmin. “This bill is a smart compromise that lets voters participate in primary elections that their tax dollars are already paying for. I’m so excited that this bill has received such strong support.”
In Maine, unenrolled voters comprise roughly one-third of all registered voters. Nationwide, 49 percent of veterans and 50 percent of millennial voters are unenrolled or consider themselves unaffiliated with either party, per a news release.
Under Maine’s current system, these voters are not allowed to vote in either party’s primary races unless they register with that party.
“Our democracy is at its best when everyone has the opportunity to participate and make their voice heard. However, unenrolled voters are currently cut out of the process when it comes to primary elections,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “Opening up our primaries to unenrolled voters will undoubtedly strengthen our democracy and ensure our elections truly reflect the will of the people.”
As amended, LD 231 would allow unenrolled voters to participate in either the Democratic or Republican primary each cycle, without changing their party affiliation.
If a voter becomes unenrolled by withdrawing from a party, they may not participate in any primary for 15 days, unless they are also registering to vote at a new address. This aligns with current law regarding primary participation for voters switching parties.
In addition, unenrolled voters who participate in a party’s primary must be considered party members for the purpose of allocating delegates to the party’s state convention or presidential nominating convention. If an unenrolled voter participates in a party primary, their participation will be tracked in the central voter registration system, as is done for party members.
LD 231 is cosponsored by Democratic, Republican and independent members of the Legislature and has been endorsed by the League of Women Voters, Veterans for Political Innovation, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, and by the editorial boards of the Bangor Daily News, the Portland Press Herald, the Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander.
LD 231 will now go to the House for votes.