New U.S. Citizens Register to Vote

By Sarah Palmer, LWVME Summer Intern

 

Sarah Palmer-1As a student studying political systems, I’m very interested in voting and ways to encourage citizens to participate in our democracy. So, this summer, I’m working as an intern for the League of Women Voters of Maine. My first official task was right in line with my interests: I joined other volunteers at a naturalization ceremony at Gorham Middle School and helped 30 new U.S. citizens register to vote.

Because this was my first time attending a naturalization ceremony, I did not know what to expect.  I took a seat in the crowded gym, directly near where approximately 60 people were about to become U.S. citizens, surrounded by their friends and family.  The enthusiastic students and faculty were welcoming to all the visitors.  And the student chorus and band added to the festivities.  As the ceremony commenced, I wondered about the various reasons why these individuals decided to relocate to the U.S. and become permanent residents.  For some, it might be to pursue an education or reunite with family members while others might be fleeing some form of persecution.  I also thought about the long – and maybe difficult – journeys that brought them to this point. Whatever path they took to get here, when it was time to take the oath of allegiance they all shared a common bond: they were all taking the same oath and they would all finally be U.S. citizens.

MakingYourVoteCountAfter the ceremony finished, the other League members and I rushed to the lobby to prepare the voter registration table.  People trickled out of the gym and we began to help many of America’s newest citizens register to vote.  We also handed out copies of the LWVME’s new brochure, ‘Making Your Vote Count’.  What an amazing experience.  I thoroughly recommend attending a naturalization ceremony if you ever have the chance.  The same goes for helping someone register to vote.  It was a thrill to think that I played a hand in increasing citizen participation in politics.

For information about League voter registration events or to volunteer, contact peg.balano@gmail.com

 

Sarah Palmer is a junior at Wheaton College, pursuing a double major in political science and women & gender studies.

 

 

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To Caucus or Primary – that is the question

By Helen Hanlon

LD1673, An Act to Establish a Presidential Primary System

The Gang of 3 (Regina Coppens, Stephanie Philbrick, and I) listened attentively to hours of testimony before the VLA Committee. The rooms started out packed, with two camera crews and a long line of people waiting to testify. By 5:30, when the hearing ended, only a few die-hard spectators and Committee members were left. There was lots of discussion and testimony – all of the testimony is available here – but we offer some highlights from the hearing:

The bill was introduced by the main sponsor, Senator Alfond of Portland. Only a fraction of the more than 90 co-sponsors were on hand, but some were there to lend support. According to Senator Alfond, legislators heard lots of complaints after the caucuses. With record turnout across the state for both the GOP and Democratic caucuses, people waited hours in line, and some never even got to vote. In many locations, the traditional caucus format was abandoned for a hybrid system that allowed participants to cast a vote and leave. The result was angry citizens who felt disenfranchised and frustrated. In response, LD 1673 proposes to return to presidential primaries in lieu of the caucus system.

Throughout the testimony, it emerged that many of the problems were caused by poor communication and organization at the party level. Caucuses are the responsibility of the parties, not the state or municipalities, and the Democrats, Republicans, and Greens hold their own caucuses according to national party rules. They also fund the caucuses, provide training for local conveners, and handle public communications about the events. It became clear through testimony that many voters were confused by the system with some thinking that they could still vote in a presdiential primary if they skipped the caucus. Still many more didn’t understand the process and showed up too late to vote (or spent hours in line only to find out they were too late). And more were turned away because they were not registered and the municipal registrars, after staying the required time – and sometimes more – had gone for the day.

After similar issues arose in the past two presidential elections (for Democrats in 2008 and for Republicans in 2012), a bill to return to a presidential primary was proposed. It was, according to Sen. Alfond, put on hold, became a study, and ended there. Presidential primaries were held in 1996 and 2000. Prior to that, Maine traditionally had a caucus system so our current system is a return to one that older generations are familiar with.

The testimony began with co-sponsors and then proponents, so throughout the early part of the hearing speakers said a Primary System seemed to be what most voters wanted. Even some of the Committee members agreed that many voters want to show up, vote, and leave. However, Rep. Schneck (D. Bangor) said his District seemed split 50/50. Everyone agreed that waiting hours to vote was not to be tolerated. And, it was pointed out that once inside a caucus, people waited hours longer to vote and weren’t prepared (or interested) in the other business of the caucus. In Portland, the wait was up to 5 ½ hours – very difficult for younger voters (with odd work schedules) and those with children. In the North and Downeast, caucus-goers had to travel long distances to the one central location offered in their region. In Biddeford, the GOP caucus was shut down by the fire department because the facility was overcrowded. Co-sponsor Joyce Maker (Dist. 140) heard from a constituent who said that it was impossible to attend because she relies on oxygen. Between the long drive each way, waiting in line and waiting to caucus, the supply of oxygen in one bottle isn’t enough. Because of the long wait and long drive, she felt cut out of the system.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap spoke in favor of the bill …. (continued)

Happy Birthday to US!

1920s_StampThe story of the League of Women Voters is a long, rich one that is intricately woven into the fabric of American history. Our nation’s history is full of people who dreamed big and acted on their beliefs. Americans speak out, agitate for change, organize and stand up for what they believe in. In their souls, Americans are activists. And at the center of activism in the U.S. is the League of Women Voters.

birthdaydonationLike our country, the League has changed with the times and met new challenges head on. At its’ core, the League of Women voters is about citizenship and the responsibilities that come with democracy. It’s not enough just to have rights. Being a citizen requires participation and the League continues to lead the way in voting rights, ethical government and environmental issues. Here in Maine, LWVME has been instrumental in passing clean elections, registering voters, safeguarding voting rights and putting Ranked Choice Voting on the ballot in 2016. We are at legislative hearings every session. We collect signatures, study the issues and lead on issues that make Maine better and stronger.

We never rest because, as one League member said long ago, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

2000sSince it was founded on February 14, 1920, the League of Women Voters has been a nonpartisan, activist, grassroots organization whose leaders believed that citizens should play a critical role in advocacy. Times have changed, political administrations have come and gone, and League members cycled through the ranks, but we continue to work for the core values have made the League a trusted voice in American democracy. We still register voters, testify on voting rights issues, monitor government function and debate issues important to society.

We are women and men who believe that citizenship brings responsibilities as well as privileges. And in Maine, we can be found in towns around the state, in all political parties (and unenrolled, too), in families of all types and beliefs, and in jobs of all kinds. We are working people, retired people. We are from Maine and from away. We are the League of Women voters – and, on our birthday, we invite you to join us.

So Tell Us

 

What does the League of Women Voters mean to you?

We asked past and present LWVME members to talk about what the League means to them and to all of us. The responses are deeply personal because citizenship is a very personal thing. We open this question to you: tell us what the League means to you and to join us in celebrating 96 years of the League of Women Voters.

 

“It’s the best conversation in town. The League’s nonpartisanship is a discipline that keeps the conversation civil. It’s about the issues, not the ideology. I’ve had a chance to meet, talk to, and learn from so many well-informed people — not all of whom think exactly the same way I do. I’ve learned so much. My best colleagues are in the League. In the end, conversation leads to action. What we learn, we put into practice. We’re making democracy work better.”Ann Luther

“I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of intelligent, dedicated people I’ve met who are members of the League of Women Voters. League members are making a difference on local, state, national and even international issues. People in the League can define a problem, seek answers, create an action plan and get things done. Being a League Member is time well spent—and the people are great, too.” Barbara McDade

When I first joined the League (a long time ago) it became my career path providing intellectual stimulation, organizational development training, a network of friends, and a passionate commitment to social justice and civic engagement. Over the years since the League has provided a steady supply of interesting ideas to address and a welcoming place to land when I moved from one state to another. What I love most is the curious, straight-talking, committed, and interesting people I have met along the way. And an affiliation with an organization I trust, admire and seek to serve.”Anne Schink

“I deeply believe that participating in the political process of selecting government leaders and voicing our opinions about public policies makes for stronger communities. It also enables us to feel better about ourselves. I was the local president in Bangor, the state president and served on the national board for two terms – one term as secretary/treasurer. My interest was in the voter service programs, and I registered lots of voters, produced forums and candidate nights. I produced the first statewide debates for the U.S. Senatorial and Maine Gubernatorial races. MPBN broadcasted them live from the Bangor Civic Center with about 500 people in attendance. The LWV offered me the platform to develop my leadership skills. I wouldn’t be a professional fundraiser today if it weren’t for my LWV leadership experience.”Penny Harris

 

 

 

 

Everything You Need to Know About Maine’s Caucus System

2016Caucus

By Barbara Kaufman

How Do Mainers Choose Presidential Candidates?

Maine uses a municipal caucus system to select national Presidential candidates. Caucuses are held by the political parties in towns and cities around the state. Caucus-goers select delegates who are pledged to support a specific presidential candidate at each qualified party’s state convention. For this election cycle, the qualified parties are the Maine Democratic, Green and Republican Parties. These parties must hold their conventions before August 1 this year.

Caucus goers must be registered voters who are also enrolled in the party whose caucus they wish to attend. You can register to vote at your local municipal offices.

If you are unenrolled in a party or unregistered, you can register and enroll up to and including on caucus day. If you are already registered but wish to permanently or temporarily switch your party enrollment so that you can attend a specific caucus, you must do so 15 days prior to that caucus. If you then wish to change enrollment, you must wait until 3 months after the initial change to switch party affiliation again.  NOTE: In the general election you must be a registered voter (and can register at the polls) but you do not need to be enrolled in a party.

Search http://www.maine.gov/local/ to find your Town Clerk’s address for voter registration and local election information.

If you want a brief overview of how different states select presidential nominees, please see: http://lwv.org/blog/everything-you-need-know-about-presidential-primaries

Dates to remember

March 1, 2016: Super Tuesday: Several states hold their primaries or caucuses. For a look at 2016 election dates, click on the Real Clear Politics calendar: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/elections/election_dates/

March 5, 2016: Maine Republican Caucuses.  For more information:

http://www.mainegop.com/CaucusBasics/

March 6, 2016: Maine Democratic Caucuses.  For more information: http://www.mainedems.org/page/2016-caucus-and-convention

TBD: Maine Green Party Caucuses in each county:  http://www.mainegreens.org/caucus

November 8, 2016: Election Day

History of Presidential Primaries and Caucuses in Maine
(see http://www.lwvme.org/elections.html)

Prior to 1995, Maine had a law allowing qualified political parties the option to hold a Presidential Primary Election after January 1st of the presidential election year. However, the decision process was complex and parties traditionally indicated their preference for presidential candidates at the biennial municipal caucuses. In 1995, the Maine Legislature replaced the Presidential Primary law with a new Presidential Preference Primary law, simplifying the process considerably. In both 1996 and 2000, the major qualified political parties (Democratic and Republican) opted to hold Presidential Preference Primaries. In 2003, the Maine Legislature repealed the Presidential Preference Primary law. Therefore, in 2004 and subsequent election years, the parties have reverted to the biennial municipal caucuses to indicate their support for presidential candidates.

Municipal Caucuses
(see http://www.lwvme.org/elections.html)

The major political parties hold biennial municipal caucuses. In order to be designated a “qualified party,” the party must hold biennial municipal caucuses before March 20 in at least one municipality in 14 of the 16 counties in the State during general election years. At this time, the three qualified parties are the Maine Democratic Party, the Maine Green Independent Party, and the Maine Republican Party. Among the most important purposes of the caucus are the following:

  • Electing delegates to the party’s state convention
  • Electing municipal party officers.

The procedures for conducting the municipal caucus are largely determined by the caucus itself and by party rules. The political party also determines the number of state convention delegates to which a municipality is entitled.

Notice of the municipal caucus is to be published as follows:

  • Published in a local newspaper between 3 and 7 days before the caucusOR
  • Posted in a public place in each voting district of the municipality seven days before the caucus.

The chairman or a majority of the members of a municipal committee of the party may call municipal caucuses. If there is no municipal committee in your town, any resident voter enrolled in a party may call a caucus for the purpose of electing the municipal committee and for conducting other business following party rules.

If you have a question about your party’s caucus in your municipality, contact state party officials.

State and National Conventions
(
see http://www.lwvme.org/elections.html)

Each qualified party must hold a state convention between March 1 and August 1 during general election years, that is, every two years in the even-numbered years. Among the most important purposes of the state convention are the following:

  • Adopting a platform for the next general election
  • Electing state and county officers
  • Electing delegates to the national party conventions
  • Nominating presidential electors.

Delegates to the national nominating convention are typically chosen based on the results of the caucuses in the state and are pledged to support a specific candidate. Although the party nominee is widely known long before the national convention actually takes place, the convention is the official mechanism by which a party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates are chosen.

 

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

Why Voter Registration is a Top Priority

The League of Women Voters of Maine has a long history of promoting democracy at the ballot box. In recognition of national Voter Registration Day, let’s review why voter registration is a top priority of the LVW, the pathways to voter registration, and how we can all use voter registration as an opportunity for a larger discussion about democracy.

First, our voter registration effort reinforces the LWV’s longstanding campaign to end discrimination in voting rights. As the LWV has worked to extend the suffrage to the broadest possible population, we have learned that having the technical right to vote is not always enough. We know that barriers to voting continue to weaken our democracy.

Some of those barriers are the result of policies that needlessly burden those who would like to participate in voting and have something to contribute. Over the years, the LWV has fought against onerous identification and residency requirements imposed by state lawmakers and election officials. Whether these are cynical attempts to circumvent the right to vote, or just misguided efforts to protect the “sanctity of our elections,” the LWV has worked to eliminate unreasonable voter registration rules so that the process of choosing our leaders and deciding on referenda and other voter-determined policy matters is open to the full expression of the voice of the public.

Other barriers to voting are tied to the experience of the voters themselves. For every voter, there is a first time. Until then, voting can be a new and intimidating ritual. People worry that they may be embarrassed by the voting process or overwhelmed by the need to make choices in a context that feels unfamiliar. What are the issues and who are the candidates one must decide upon? Where do I register? Where do I vote? What do I actually need to do to complete a ballot and have it accepted? The LWV has attempted to lower these self-imposed barriers by providing appropriate voter-education materials, supportive outreach to newly eligible voters, and helpful public reminders of the schedule, locations and logistics of elections at all levels.

The LWV”s overall goal is to make sure that the necessary steps of voter registration do not create an undue burden, deterring eligible voters from participating in our system of self-government. As a nation we have rejected overt voting discrimination against non-property owners, women, and others. We enhanced our democracy by defeating those discriminatory voting laws, and by the same token we should not tolerate unreasonably high hurdles to voter registration.

As the 2015 election approaches, the LWV is now involved in registering voters in high schools across Maine. The LWV has also reached out to other unregistered citizens of all ages across the state to encourage them to register and vote. And we also support and participate in voter registration efforts held in conjunction with periodic citizenship ceremonies held to welcome immigrants who are joining our state and country.

The most recent citizenship ceremony was held on September 17th. LWV member Peg Balano stated that “the judicial ceremony was impressive as usual.” There was a very long receiving line reflecting the strong interest in becoming a voter and accepting the other responsibilities of citizenship. The LWV had six representatives helping that day. Peg also reported that “there were 90 new citizens from 39 countries and we registered 35. . . . I think everyone from the league really enjoyed it.”

Citizenship ceremonies and all of the other pathways to voting are also pathways for LWV members (and others) who want to share in the satisfaction of supporting our democracy in a very tangible way. Those who participate in helping people become voters are rewarded with a renewed appreciation for the awesome rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and for the opportunity to play a role in giving that experience to more people.

As Voter Registration Day approaches, we encourage everyone who cares about democracy to find a way to help register voters or to participate in one of the LWV’s voter registration programs. It is a great way to help increase active participation in our elections and to promote deeper discussions about civic activism and our mutual responsibility for self-government.

Join us for Voter Registration Week events around the state!

We’ll be at the Maine State Library from 11:30am to 1:30pm on Tuesday September 22. The Portland Area LWV is focusing on student registrations this year as part of its National Voter Registration Day efforts. Voter drives started September 16 at the University of Maine Augusta and continue at various locations until October 8 at Casco Bay High School. For more information please contact them at lwvportland@maine.rr.com.

 

 

League Helps New Citizens Register to Vote at Acadia

By Regina Coppens

 

Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park was the setting of a recent naturalization ceremony. Thirty new citizens were sworn in on August 12 just as the fog over Jordan Pond lifted. Martha Dickenson and I, both of us members of the League of Women Voters of Maine, were there to help the new citizens register to vote. The staff at Jordan Pond House provided us with a table front and center and were able to register nearly half of those naturalized that day.

imageIt was a diverse group with people who have come here from countries all over the world, including: Antilles, Canada, China, Egypt, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Senegal, So. Korea, Thailand, UK, Vietnam, and the Netherlands. Everyone was so excited and it was a pleasure to help them in their next phase of citizenship.

At least once a month in the Portland area, The US Citizenship and Immigration Services holds ceremonies in the Portland area at least once a month. Qualified immigrants are granted citizenship and the LWVME regularly attends the naturalizations ceremonies to help them register to vote. Peg Balano, a member of the Portland LWV is present at almost all the ceremonies and reports that “Since the beginning of the year, we have helped register 99 new citizens to vote.”

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The Bangor Daily News featured an article about the naturalization ceremony at Jordan Pond. One new citizen interviewed said he was looking forward to voting: ““I’m thrilled I’ll now be able to take part in the electoral system. I can hopefully make my vote count.” Another added, “…that Americans who work hard can have opportunities unavailable in other countries and that she wants to be able to take advantage of them.”

 

We Need Your Help!

Many new citizens need help completing the voter registration form and we welcome volunteers.  We work to make sure that anyone who wants to  can register to vote on the day they become a citizens.  It’s the perfect time to explain the importance and process of voting — and it’s very rewarding work because people are thrilled at prospect of exercising their newly gained rights. If you’re interested in volunteering in this effort, contact Peg for dates and more information, peg.balano@gmail.com.