FAQ

Why open Maine's primaries to unenrolled voters?

A:

Maine’s closed primary law denies 35% of voters who are unenrolled the right to vote in taxpayer-funded elections that decide 70% of state legislative races. That’s why 80% of Maine voters support adopting semi-open primaries, and it’s why lawmakers in 36 states have already opened their primaries to unenrolled voters.

  • 80% of Maine voters support opening primaries to unenrolled voters (PPP, March 2017). LD 211, "An Act To Open Maine's Primaries," would allow unenrolled voters to cast one ballot in the primary of their choice.

  • 70% of legislative races are effectively decided in primaries (SOS results). In districts that skew towards one party or another, primary elections often serve as de facto general elections. Maine’s closed primary law prevents many unenrolled voters from voting in the only election that really matters in their legislative district.
  • 50% of young Mainers and veterans are shut out of primaries (Pew, IAVA). Maine’s closed primary law disproportionately and negatively impacts young Mainers and the veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, roughly 50% of whom are independents. Unenrolled new Mainers and women are also shut out of primaries.
  • 36 states have already opened their primaries to unenrolled voters (NCSL). Maine has led the nation in strengthening our democracy, but when it comes to the openness and inclusiveness of primary elections, Maine has fallen behind the 36 other states where lawmakers have already opened their primaries.
  • 4 in 10 voters are blocked from voting in elections they pay for. Primary elections are funded by taxpayers, governed by statute, and administered by state and local government administrators. L.D. 211 would allow the 35-37% of Maine voters who are unenrolled from year to year to participate in all elections.

Who pays for primary elections and who writes the rules governing them?

A:

Primary elections are funded by Maine taxpayers and administered by state and local election administrators. Parties participate in primary elections, but they do not write the rules governing them. The rules are written by Maine lawmakers or by citizens via the initiative process.

Would semi-open primaries legislation allow unenrolled voters to cast ballots in both party primaries?

A:

No. Unenrolled voters would have to choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary.

Would semi-open primaries legislation allow Democrats and Republicans to crossover vote?

A:

No. Registered Republican voters would not be allowed to vote in Democratic primaries, or vice versa.

Do most states have open or closed primaries?

A:

Primary elections are open to unenrolled voters in 36 states in all or most election contest for state and federal offices. Maine has led the nation in strengthening our democracy. But, when it comes to the openness and inclusiveness of primary elections, Maine has fallen behind the 36 other states where lawmakers have already opened primaries to unenrolled voters.

Do semi-open primaries weaken political parties?

A:

There is no correlation between the openness of primaries and the relative influence of parties in states. There are open primary states with strong parties and closed primary states with relatively weak parties. In fact, in several states one or both major parties have petitioned the state to open their primaries to unenrolled voters.

"We believe that one of the most important things we can do to strengthen our party and our democracy is to invite independents, especially young voters, to participate in primaries." - Jane Kleeb, Chair, Nebraska Democratic Party

Has there been any polling on this issue in Maine?

A:

Yes. Polling shows consistently over time that 75-80% of Maine voters support moving to semi-open primaries. PPP, with the national organization Open Primaries, conducted an extensive survey of Maine voters in 2017. Read the results here.