With a unanimous vote, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on April 2, 2016 endorsed a bill that would put Maine on the path to holding presidential primaries in 2020.
The bill was sponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland after this year’s presidential caucuses left a wake of frustrated voters across the state.
“Once again this year, we were reminded of the shortcomings of the caucus system,” said Sen. Alfond on Monday. “Whether it was because of long lines, overcrowding, or the inflexible schedule of the caucuses, too many Mainers didn’t have a chance to vote. Mainers deserve better. A primary would ensure that everyone who wants to have a say in the nominating process will have that chance.”
Caucuses require voters to participate in sometimes lengthy meetings in order to show their support of a presidential candidate. Republican caucuses this year were held in centralized locations, forcing some voters to drive long distances to take part. Democratic caucuses, especially in more populous communities such as Portland, were overcrowded, causing lines that lasted as long as five hours.
Primaries allow voters to cast private ballots at the polls the same way they do in an election. Polling places are open all day, allowing voters with busy schedules, children or other responsibilities to vote when it’s convenient for them.
The bill, as amended by the committee, establishes a March presidential primary in Maine while charging the Secretary of State with submitting a bill next year to address the cost of the primary and other logistic details. If unanswered questions remain or logistic hurdles cannot be cleared, a sunset provision of the bill would revert the state back to caucuses.
“We know that many people still have questions about how, exactly, the primary would be run,” Sen. Alfond said. “Those questions must be answered. But this bill gets the ball rolling and makes clear that no Maine voter will be left out again.”
The bill now heads to the Senate for initial votes.