Clean Elections’ second big win plus Election Day vote win equals pro-reform Maine

voteMainers delivered a strong win on Clean Elections that’s been getting national coverage.

The vote shows the state remains a force for citizen control when it comes to campaigns and the vote.

Clean Elections, then and now

Question 1 opponents sometimes said that Maine people didn’t support the law anymore, that the public had shifted.

But let’s compare the results from the two times it was on the ballot.

When Clean Elections was first adopted, back in 1996, the vote was 56-44%.

At the time of this writing, with 85% of precincts reporting, the vote is 55-45%.

Obviously, that’s a small change and 2015’s ten point margin, while a little less than the twelve point margin in 1996, is also a big win.

This year’s referendum restored the matching provisions for public financing, increased transparency by requiring that the top 3 donors be listed on ads, required reporting for gubernatorial transition committees, increased fines for campaign law violations, and called on the Legislature to finance publicly financed campaigns by ending unneeded tax breaks. (For ideas on tax breaks worth eliminating, see this piece by Al DiMillo.)

This complex package has been adopted, with the goal of enabling candidates to focus on talking to voters rather than raising money, thus “keep[ing] control of elections in the hands of the people.”

Mainers supported voter access to the ballot in 2011.

After Republicans won the Maine Legislature and governorship in 2010, they ended Election Day voter registration.

Then, in 2011, Maine voters restored it with a People’s Veto vote of 60-40%.

The campaign against it, which was better funded and organized than the anti-Question 1 vote this year, failed. (With its unfounded and debunked claims of fraud, that campaign effort was also very heavy handed.)

Election Day registration has been shown to boost turnout. It’s one reason why Maine has high voter turnout compared to most states.

These votes bode well for further election reform.

Ranked choice voting will be on the ballot in November 2016.

If Maine people see this proposal the same way they’ve seen Clean Elections and Election Day registration — as ways for the people to have power in our democracy — the referendum should do very well.

We might also consider adopting other reforms that are being passed around the country, such as on-line voter registration.

According to political scientist Rachel Cobb:

  • Today, over 70% of Arizona voter registrations occur online. The old paper system required clerks for manual data entry and cost the state approximately 83 cents to process each form. Now online registrations cost three cents apiece.
  • According to Brookings Institution political scientist Michael McDonald, Arizona online registration increased registration rates for 18 to 24 year-olds from 29% to 53%. Equally important, 94% of online registrants actually vote, compared to 85% in the old system. [source]

Given that Maine has Election Day registration, on-line registration wouldn’t have as large an effect, but it probably would have some impact — and the Arizona experience suggests it would save money. I’m not endorsing this in particular, just pointing out that other reforms deserve and could get a look.

In any case, reform advocates, including ranked choice supporters, are probably feeling very hopeful today, as Maine maintains its position as a state with a strong commitment to citizen involvement and power.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.