Top Ten Reasons to Support LWVME in 2015

 

Giving Tuesday 2015 copyWe hope your Thanksgiving was full of family, friends, food and fun.  We hope, for those of you who like a good bargain, that Black Friday and Cyber Monday brought you many steals and deals.DonateStar

Now, we hope you will help us have a successful #GivingTuesday by supporting the League of Women Voters of Maine and our efforts to make democracy work better in Maine.

Top ten reasons to support LWVME in 2015:

10. Registering new voters.  On National Voter Registration Day, at naturalization ceremonies across the state, and throughout the year the League is there making sure citizens are registered.  So far this year, we have helped to register more than 400 new voters.

9. Annual Easy-to-Read Voter Guide.  The 2015 guides helped Portland voters make informed decisions on the mayoral race, and all Maine voters got the facts on the statewide ballot questions.

8. Open Dialogue and Civil Discourse.  Through candidate and issue forums the League gave voters an unbiased place to ask questions and get them answered.

7. Advocacy.  Providing expert testimony in Augusta on voting rights and laws that encourage voter participation.

6. All-Volunteer.  That’s right.  The League does all this great work and more through volunteers.

5. Holding our local and state officials accountable.  The League is a leading voice in Maine for your right to know and our right to a government free of corruption and undue influence.

4. Ranked Choice Voting in Maine.  Ranked Choice Voting is certified for the ballot in 2016, which would give voters the power to rank candidates from favorite to least favorite, thanks in part to the League’s leadership.

3. Pushing Back against Big Money in Politics.  YES on 1 passed, strengthening our landmark, first-in-the-nation Clean Elections system and bringing more transparency and accountability to Maine elections.

2.  Nonpartisan.  The League continues to be one of a few nonpartisan, grassroots, political organizations working on behalf of all voters, and we are proud of this heritage.

1. Your voice.  Your vote.  It’s what makes democracy work and it’s why the League of Women Voters of Maine is here, working every day for you to make sure your vote counts, your voice is heard.

#GivingTuesday is propelled by those who believe that passion and commitment can make a difference.

We certainly believe that here at the League of Women Voters of Maine.

If you want to help us make a difference, please make a donation today to support our work.

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Jill Ward
President, League of Women Voters of Maine

2015 Elections: The Good News and the Bad News

By Barbara Kaufman and Jill Ward

The 2015 election is one for the books, and there is some good news and some not-so-good news.

ThanksToYouThe Good News: The 2015 Voter Turnout graph below shows that, through approval of Question 1 on this year’s statewide ballot, most Mainers want a more accountable, transparent election system that values voters over donors. By a 10-point margin, Maine voters passed the Clean Election initiative, which would strengthen Maine’s landmark public financing system, require more disclosure of the top donors on the political ads, and exact stiffer penalties on those who break Maine election law.

The League of Women Voters of Maine helped organize and support this effort from its very beginning, and we are thrilled that it passed.

2015VoterTurnoutThe Bad News: More than 740,000 registered Maine Voters didn’t vote this year. Good government and strong democracy requires active citizens. Voting is the most basic way to be engaged, and the League is committed to continuing our efforts to register voters, study the pros and cons of current issues, and educate Mainers through forums and debates, blogs and newsletters.

We know Maine can and has done better. Last year, Maine led the country in voter turnout and has consistently ranked in the top 5 states for voter turnout in recent years. Part of why Maine does so well is that we have implemented policies that encourage civic participation by making it easier to register and to vote. No-excuse absentee ballots and same-day voter registration are just two of the policies supported by the League that have made access to the polls easier for thousands of eligible Maine voters.

Throughout the state, dedicated League volunteers also help register voters at high schools, colleges, and U.S. Naturalization Ceremonies. So far this year we have registered close to 400 new voters. Since 2007, the League has published and distributed non-partisan, Easy-to-Read Voter Guides and held many forums around the state to help educate voters.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Citizen engagement is so critical to making our democracy work. If you are interested in helping the League with our ongoing voter registration efforts, training is available, and new volunteers are needed. Please contact Barbara Kaufman, Voter Services Committee Chair at lwvme@gwi.net.

Join Us in Voting Yes on 1

By Jill Ward, President of LWVME

Well, here we are — into the final week of this historic campaign!

The League of Women Voters has been there every step of the way. We have given our good name, we have given our time and energy, and we have donated precious dollars.  Q1

But we haven’t won yet. And when it comes right down to it, what we need more than anything is for Mainers to get out there and vote!

Question 1, the first statewide, citizen-driven initiative of its kind since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, will put control of elections back in the hands of Mainers by reducing the power of big money. It will increase accountability and transparency. Best of all, it will revitalize Maine’s landmark public campaign financing system.

There has been plenty of support from across the state and the political spectrum. Question 1 has been endorsed by Democrats, Republicans, Greens and independents who want to hold elected officials accountable and keep control of elections in the hands of the voters.

Here are some of our favorites:

We have also gotten national attention from Paul Blumenthal at the Huffington Post as a leader on campaign finance reform: Maine Voters Hope To Restore Their Revolutionary Election System

In these last critical days of the campaign, getting our supporters to the polls will be absolutely critical.  Your vote is so important. Can you bring a friend to the polls with you? How about four or five friends? Or better yet, join one of the phone banks going on around the state to mobilize our supporters and get them to the polls.

QuestionOne

Now is the time for all Mainers to stand together in support of our Clean Elections system.

Join us in voting Yes on 1 and in doing what you can to make sure this landmark campaign is successful on November 3rd! See you at the polls!

Restoring Power to the People: Money in Politics Roundtable

A lively BREAKFAST ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION on money in politics was hosted by Mainers for Accountable Elections on September 2 at USM’s Abromson Center. Moderated by Alison Smith, (a League member) Co-Founder of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, and featuring:

The panel discussed ways to change the role of big donors in our election system and create a government of, by and for the people on local, state and national levels. All the participants acknowledged the cynicism surrounding our election process today, ever since the Supreme Court declared that money is speech. Only one third of the eligible voters in Maine turned out for the election in 2014, Andrew Bossie reported.

Saying that she believes Mainers are hungry for change, Jill Ward said, “In my conversations I am encountering that level of cynicism, but also people want to find a way out of it. They don’t want to give up on this idea that when they go to the polls, they’re a meaningful participant in what’s going on in the community and the state and the country.”

People are disgusted and have a sense of powerlessness, Rep. Sarbanes commented. While 96% of the nation’s population agreed that money was the problem, 91% felt that nothing could be done about it. He outlined H.R.20, his proposed Government by the People Act, which would establish a small donor matching system to combat the influence of big money in politics and return government back to the American people. The proposal complements the Maine’s referendum Question 1 on the ballot for this November’s (sponsored by Mainers for Accountable Elections – to strengthen Maine’s first-in-the-nation Clean Election Law by requiring special interest groups to disclose their top donors and increasing fines and penalties for campaign finance violations).

Peter Mills, has over 15 years’ experience in the Maine Legislature and said that any method of public campaign financing that incentivizes small donor contributions is worth pursuing. “There is something to be said for a bit-sized democracy that is for taking things on in small doses, focusing on them, getting them passed and then moving on to the next stage — there’s power in that,” he stated.

The League of Women Voters of Maine supports Maine’s Clean Elections Initiative. We worked with our partners at Maine Citizens for Clean Elections to gather more than 80,000 signatures to advance a citizen initiated bill that will strengthen Clean Elections, disclose dark money, and close loopholes for the future. Mainers object to the growing role of big money in politics and we believe government should be accountable to everyday voters, not just to wealthy campaign donors.

The League of Women Voters of Maine was a founding member of the coalition that worked to gather signatures to pass the Maine Clean Election Act in 1996.  Since it went into effect in 2000, the Clean Elections Act has allowed good people from diverse backgrounds to run for office; kept candidates focused on voters, not donors; and allowed legislators to serve in office without strings to big money.

Before Court and Legislative actions damaged the Act, 85% of Maine lawmakers used Clean Elections to fund their races. That included Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and independents. And Clean Elections has allowed Maine to have more working class people serve in the legislature than in any other legislature in the country.

While it has been discouraging to see this successful program diminished, it is very exciting to see Maine people stand up for the future of Clean Elections by collecting signatures and getting their friends and neighbors involved. The Clean Elections Initiative is our best chance to restore, strengthen, and ensure the success of Clean Elections for the next generation of Mainers.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Maine’s Clean Elections Initiative, see Mainers for Accountable Elections.

 

 

Report from the Statehouse: VLA Work Session April 8

By Helen Hanlon

Lovely day at the VLA! The Committee was raring to go, the most engaged I’ve seen them so far with great give and take at today’s work sessions.

LD1335 (An Act To Amend Election Laws) and LD585 (An Act Regarding the Processing of Absentee Ballots Prior To Election Day)

Both of these bills were tabled after several hours of meticulous review with Legislative Analyst Danielle Foxx and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn.

The 14 page analysis of this Legislation brought out many questions from the Committee, but they were still unclear on several issues (noted below). Deputy Flynn stated her hopes for a unanimous OTP vote. She stated that she was willing to bend on a few sticking points in order to see the main point passed. The result would save money, time and staffing, and produce a better product for the voters, too. But, though the Committee mostly seemed in favor, they felt they needed time to discuss some of the specifics.

Action: Tabled.

Points of possible contention with LD1335:

  • Sec.4 . MRSA  Para 331, sub-Para.1

The substantive change in this bill means that no primary would be held for legislative and county offices when there is only one qualified candidate running for office. It also increases the number of days before an election that a write-in candidate must provide a declaration of intent (from 45 to 70 days). This would provide the Secretary of State’s office with additional time for ballot preparation. The cost of changing ballot styles and printing remains an issue for their office.

Several Committee members, notably Reps. Turner, Longstaff and Dillingham, felt that a candidate may be put at a disadvantage if their name isn’t on the primary ballot – even if they don’t have an opponent in that race – because it may affect their name recognition in preparation for the main race. They also queried whether voters might be confused when candidates are omitted from the ballot.

  • Sec. 6  21-A MRSA  Par. 371

Candidates for Nomination vacancy. This would result in a substantive change governing nomination of a replacement candidate when a candidate withdraws before the primary. It requires that withdrawal before a primary must be “for good cause.” This section also changes the deadline to withdraw from 60 to 75 days before the primary. Committee members discussed Rep. Chenette’s bill regarding Place Holders and his experience with the situation. Deputy Flynn reported that the number of withdrawals has increased substantially over the years (50-60 during the last few elections), and currently there are about 2,000 different ballot styles. Both Rep. Turner and Dillingham agreed on the good cause aspect, believing that once you agree to put your name on the ballot, there is a moral aspect to this oath and it should not be treated cavalierly. Rep. Luchini cautioned the Committee to be careful of “legislating ourselves into a corner.” Sen. Cyrway felt that sometimes parties just need more time to find a suitable candidate, therefore the place holder can have a legitimate function.

Currently party rules determine how the public is notified about withdrawal and replacement of a candidate. Legislation could clarify and set specific parameters but Deputy Flynn stated she wasn’t eager for separate bill.

  • Sec. 20.21-A MRSA Para. 712

If an election return is not delivered to the Secretary of State on time a penalty would be imposed on the Town Clerk, resulting in a civil violation and fine of not more than $50/day the return is late. There was much discussion regarding the appropriateness of targeting the clerk vs. municipality. Rep. Saucier felt the fine should be larger ($500) and charged against the municipality not the clerk. Deputy Flynn countered that the Clerk is the officer charged with this responsibility, and it is considered a crime to not comply with election laws. However, she said that this wasn’t a deal-breaker for this bill but it has become an onerous burden for her staff.

LD1192 (An Act Regarding Campaign Finance Reform)

In addition to the dizzying detail above, I added horse racing to my list of vices this session (adding it to booze, bear hunting, slots, underage drinking for veterans, OTB). What can possibly be next? I sat through two Horse racing bills before learning that LD1192 was off today’s docket. I did, however, learn what “handle” means (a wager or bet) and how many out of state horse breeders are in Maine collecting up to $500,000 so I can’t count the afternoon as a loss.

 

 

Report from the Statehouse: VLA Work Session April 24

Showing Initiative

By Helen Hanlon

The place seemed deserted on a Friday – I even found a place to park!

First up on the docket:

LD1290 (An Act To Repeal the Maine Clean Election Act and Direct the Savings To Be Used for the State’s Contribution toward the Costs of Education Funding)

Things started off with Senator Brakey of Auburn introducing his bill. He explained that it wasn’t really his intent to “REPEAL” the Clean Election Act, but rather to give Maine Citizens a choice: to keep, expand or repeal the Act. He admitted that the bill was misleadingly titled and needed clarification. The goal, he said, was to allow Mainers to use their tax dollars for education vs. more political signs and victory parties. He claimed that the Maine Clean Election Act had not reached its goal of transparency and had failed to clean up negative campaigning. And, though he didn’t present details, he said it actually increased campaign costs.

The Committee members grilled Senator Brakey about the intent of this bill and about his statements that MCEA was a failure. Many (10 out of 12) on this Committee had used MCEA funds for their campaigns, and so most seemed to be against (or at least perplexed by) this bill. The lone hold-out was Rep. Dillingham of Oxford who seemed to agree with Brakey. She is one of the few traditional candidates on the Committee.

Rep. Luchini noted that the MCEA was initiated by the voters and suggested that any repeal efforts should also involve signature gathering to place it on the ballot. The Committee Chair, expressed his profound appreciation for the MCEA saying,

“Never in a million years could I ever have imagined sitting in this chair without the MCEA, I am humbled.” – Sen. Cyrway

Additionally, Rep. Schneck and Sen. Patrick both voiced strong support for keeping the MCEA, with Senator Patrick adding, “If money is speech, then speech isn’t free.”

Senator Brakey answered Committee questions for nearly 40 minutes. There was a lot of confusion about the education funding piece of this bill. Was it a way of diverting voters from the real issue (repealing MCEA)?  Was this a competing measure? Why 2015? Why not 2016? Brakey agreed to consider amending the education piece upon the recommendation of Rep. Longstaff.

(Note: Contrary to the title of this bill, there is no dedicated Educational Fund and monies are almost never segregated in this way. It would most likely go into the General Fund to be allocated just like any other State funds)

Senator Brakey couldn’t stay for more discussion due to commitments on the Senate floor. It’s unfortunate but Legislators are busy this time of year with responsibilities for several bills and committees.

No one spoke in support of LD1290.

Ed Youngblood spoke for nearly an hour about the importance of MCEA and efforts to improve the Legislation through the 2015 initiative. He fielded many insightful questions from the Committee who obviously had immense respect for him. They expressed how much they missed his experience and presence in the Legislature.

Allison Smith, founder of the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, spoke forcefully about this as a citizen’s initiative, emphasizing to Brakey, “We have thousands who signed petitions, no one is here speaking with you.”

MCCE spokesperson Robert Howe put the icing on the cake, when he reminded the Committee members that this wasn’t a “competing measure” but a calculated plan to undermine the initiative by depriving it of a majority. “Go out and collect your own signatures if you want this repealed,” he said.

It was a spirited hearing, for sure. My read on the Committee members is this:

  • Dillingham supports Brakey & this bill.
  • Longstaff supports an amendment eliminating the Education piece and then may support the bill.
  • Harrington, Cyrway, Schneck, Patrick, Luchini, oppose LD1290.
  • Kinney, Turner, Soucier, Golden played it closer to the vest and their opinion is unclear.
  • Bear, absent.

Other bills

LD1335 (Act to Amend Election Laws)

Addressing a variety of issues; an agency bill from Deputy Sec. Of State Julie Flynn.
LD1138 (An Act regarding Municipal Reporting of Statewide Elections)

Action: ONTP (Unanimous) – with timeline components to be folded into LD1335

LD742 (Resolution proposing an Amendment to the Constitution requiring a 5% of signatures on a Direct Initiative of Legislature Coming From each County).

Action: Tabled (Unanimous)
LD1127 (An Act regarding The Authority of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General To Conduct Investigations of Vote Recounts)

Action: ONTP (Unanimous)

Rather than passing a new law, the Committee chose to appoint Deputy Secretary of State, Julie Flynn, to work on new rules and regulations, and keep Committee informed.
LD1084 (Resolution Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution of Maine To Exclude Wildlife Issues From Citizens Initiatives)

Action: Tabled (Unanimous)

 

Public Hearings in VLA and SLG, April 13, 2015

By Helen Hanlon and Ann Luther

Hop-scotching through the State House, Ann Luther, Polly Ward and Helen Hanlon played tag covering bills in hearings in both the SLG and VLA Committees on Monday.

VLA heard five bills that we are following:

  • LD 1192 An Act Regarding Campaign Finance Reform: Seeks to address how money is moved back and forth between PACS. It would require naming the top donor, paying a tax  to the Maine Clean Election Fund , voluntarily signing of pledge form, detailed disclosures by unions to their members with a $500 fine for non-compliance.  Despite the concern that some of the provisions are likely unconstitutional and others probably ineffective, it seemed that many of the committee members felt that some reform is needed to address PAC-to-PAC transfers. Rep. Turner felt that this transfer of money without disclosure was “nothing more than money laundering.”

Opposed by MSEA as specifically targeting unions  who already have numerous reporting requirements  and other federal limitations, also citing some constitutional issues and “onerous burden” considerations.

NFNA: Maine Clean Elections concurred with the unequal treatment of unions vs corporations, calling for any “pledge” to apply to all, not just MCEA races ( Specifically Sec. 4 and 7), as well as raising “competing measure” issues.

NFNA: Commission On Government Ethics: Submitted an outline of what is currently available for disclosure on their website and felt the Attorney General’s office should review the proposal on  the issue of fees/fines and the pledge.

  • LD 1138 An Act Regarding Municipal Reporting of State Elections:  This Bill attempts to correct the problem of some towns chronically failing to report election info to the Secretary of State, currently a 20 day window after an election. LD 1138 has a “shaming “provision, requiring posting the Town Clerk’s delinquency in a newspaper and town report, along with a $50/day fine (levied on the Clerk).  The role of Town supervision of clerks was discussed. Many clerks are elected.

Opposed by Maine Municipal Assoc.  Another mandate? Plus punishing a clerk in such a humiliating way was viewed as not the way to go.

NFNA : Maine Clerk’s Association:  “How about a $50 incentive vs a fine?”

NFNA:  Deputy Secretary of State:  Much testimony about requirements/ compliance efforts, frustration with some Town’s that repeatedly fail to report, plus accuracy issues and impact on an accurate voter data base. Supports increasing time for reporting from 20 business days to 35 or 40 days.

NFNA: Ann Luther testified about the need for accurate and efficient reporting system .  Read her testimony here.

  • LD 1067 An Act To Protect The Clean Election Fund.   Rep. Davitt introduced this constituent bill, and Rep. Dillingham read testimony from the constituent, discussing how the Maine Clean Election Fund was marginalized  by PACs  and proposing a 10% fee to maintain the  Clean Election Fund. Despite broad sympathy from many on the committee, it seemed tacitly understood that such a fee may be deemed a tax on speech and, as such, unconstitutional.

Committee recessed until 1:30 pm: Ann Luther covered the remainder of the day in VLA while Polly Ward and Helen Hanlon were at the State and Local Government Committee.

In VLA, the committee heard a couple of bills on veterans’ affairs before turning to:

  • LD 1127 An Act Regarding the Authority of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General To Conduct Investigations of Vote Recounts. This bill was introduced in reaction to the issues that arose from the Senate District 25 recount last fall. Sen. Cathy Breen, who ultimately prevailed in that race, offered testimony is support. Julie Flynn offered comprehensive testimony about what happened in that race. The League testified NFNA but supporting the idea that there are other stakeholders than the candidates and the parties, and that the recount supervisor should have the authority to take measures to protect those interests regardless of what the candidate/party representatives might want. Read the League’s testimony here.

Meanwhile, over in SLG they were hearing:

  • LD 1103 Resolve, To Study Understaffing in State Agencies. Chronic under-staffing and salary suppression were underscored throughout the hearing. Apparently there was a report commissioned in 2005 outlining serious pay deficits in comparison to private sector  pay bases  that  was marked “Confidential”  until discovered by FOIA in 2009 (ranging from 7.5%- 21.6%  less than private sector).

All who testified were in support of a survey but some indicated that another study without action will be another blow to morale and recruitment and retention. Age of current State workers, workload, as well as a living wage was discussed. Ferry captains and foresters discussed chronic staffing shortages. Ferry operators have at times been working 12 hour days for up to 25 days, using some unqualified or barely qualified staff to fill the ranks. Polly Ward testified in support of LD 1103 for the League, well received by State employees. Read the League’s testimony here.