Solemn Occasion Request on RCV Advanced by Maine Senate

By Jill Ward

In November, Maine voters passed Ranked Choice Voting into law. This was a citizen initiative powered by Maine people to give Maine voters more choice and more power in elections.

Today, the Maine Senate voted to ask the Maine Supreme Court to weigh in on the law. While there are competing opinions about the law’s constitutionality, the law as passed is presumed to be constitutional. Regular order dictates that the law is to be followed as passed. Dissatisfied candidates or voters may decide to challenge the law following an election and at that point the court would consider the question and issue a ruling as they see fit. That is how our political system works. Instead, the Maine Senate majority today asked for a Solemn Occasion[i] instead of allowing the process to proceed as usual. (The order was S.O. 12 and the text is here: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/display_ps.asp?paper=SO12&PID=1456&snum=128)

In the League’s opinion, this undermines the will of Maine citizens, negates our voting power, and weakens the citizen initiative process. There is an established process to address issues of constitutionality, and the Senate should have followed it. To circumvent the regular order appears unnecessarily political and deliberately disenfranchises voters.

How your state senator voted on the solemn occasion:

Member Party           Vote
BELLOWS of Kennebec D N
BRAKEY of Androscoggin R Y
BREEN of Cumberland D N
CARPENTER of Aroostook D Y
CARSON of Cumberland D N
CHENETTE of York D N
CHIPMAN of Cumberland D N
COLLINS of York R Y
CUSHING of Penobscot R Y
CYRWAY of Kennebec R Y
DAVIS of Piscataquis R Y
DESCHAMBAULT of York D Y
DIAMOND of Cumberland D Y
DILL of Penobscot D Y
DION of Cumberland D N
DOW of Lincoln R Y
GRATWICK of Penobscot D Y
HAMPER of Oxford R Y
HILL of York D Y
JACKSON of Aroostook D N
KATZ of Kennebec R Y
KEIM of Oxford R E
LANGLEY of Hancock R Y
LIBBY of Androscoggin D Y
MAKER of Washington R Y
MASON of Androscoggin R Y
MILLETT of Cumberland D N
MIRAMANT of Knox D N
ROSEN of Hancock R Y
SAVIELLO of Franklin R Y
THIBODEAU of Waldo R Y
VITELLI of Sagadahoc D N
VOLK of Cumberland R Y
WHITTEMORE of Somerset R Y
WOODSOME of York R Y

[i] An opinion of the justices is issued when the Senate and House propound questions to the justices of the Supreme Judicial Court involving important questions of law in circumstances that present a solemn occasion. This process is authorized by article VI, section 3 of the Maine Constitution. From: http://www.courts.maine.gov/citizen_help/glossary.html accessed on 2/2/2017

 

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The Voter Fraud Myth

By Stephanie Philbrick

We have reached a precarious moment in American politics. Divisive rhetoric and fear politics have taken an ugly turn and threaten the most basic of our democratic rights: voting. The myth of voter fraud is so dangerous precisely because it chills voter participation and leads to proposals that restrict voter access. And voter intimidation like we saw from Governor LePage during the election serves as backdoor disenfranchisement because citizens are intentionally confused about the election process and their access to it.

Before the election, a candidate predicted that the only way he could lose was if the election was “rigged.” Now that he has won and been installed as our president, he still says there was widespread voter fraud—because he didn’t win the popular election. It’s unclear why he’s perpetuating this idea and many lawmakers agree there is no evidence to back his claim.

But this is clear: the myth of voter fraud is very dangerous and widely believed. This myth instills fear in us as citizens so we look for villains and question our neighbors. Worse, it leads legislators to propose and pass laws that restrict our rights. Let’s be honest: perpetuating the myth of voter fraud without evidence is a political tactic designed to undermine voter rights and participation. The goal is to delegitimize the one part of the political process that all citizens should have access to.

There is no evidence of rampant voter fraud—especially impersonation fraud. The Brennan Center for Justice found that the incident rates for this type of fraud was between 0.00004 and 0.00009%. Most of these were clerical errors or other mistakes. They calculate that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate someone else at the polls. Currently, there are no studies and no court cases that report large instances of voter fraud.  This is a non-existent problem and is pulling our attention away from other things happening at the state and federal level.

There is also no evidence to support the idea that people are voting more than once or voting in two states. Governor LePage, before the election, targeted college students with false information claiming they would need to register their car here or get a Maine license before they could vote here.  Why the Governor targeted college students is unknown to us, but he was wrong. College students, according the U.S. Supreme Court, can vote in their home state or where they attend college.

We have a strong election system that is managed by trained and conscientious—especially here in Maine. Unsubstantiated stories of fraud undermine our political process and demean the work of our election officials. These false accusations threaten our democracy. Voting is the core right in our political system and key to citizen participation. No matter what beliefs we may hold as individuals, the right to vote is one of the few things that unites all Americans. No one should be disenfranchised or discouraged from voting. We should all be working to protect this most precious of rights.

We in Maine turn out to vote. We have some of the highest voter turnout rates in the country. That is something to be proud of; it’s intensely patriotic. And there is no evidence of fraud. That, too, is something we can be proud of.

And yet there are bills before the Maine Legislature this session that call this into question and threaten voter access. LD 121 would require photo ID for voting and LD 155 would require students, in particular, to comply with motor vehicle law before voting. There are no known voter fraud problems —so why are we considering bills to combat voter fraud? It’s a fix for a problem we don’t have, and it very well may prevent some people from voting.

What you can do

  1. Know your rights (see our Making Your Vote Count pamphlet) and exercise them.
  2. Follow our work in this area. Voting rights and voter access are key issues for the League and always have been. We’ll be following every voter rights and election administration bill before the Maine Legislature this year. We post regular updates on our blog—make sure you follow us.
  3. Call your local State Reps and State Senators and ask them to protect voter rights and vote against Voter ID.
  4. Consider the source. When you hear these stories about voter fraud ask for data. There are facts and there are opinions—so far, there are no facts supporting widespread voter fraud no matter what people believe.

Impact on Issues: the positions behind our advocacy work

Introducing Impact on Issues from the League of Women Voters of Maine

By Stephanie Philbrick

impact-lwv-jan-2017We believe that transparency and accountability are essential to a functioning government and we closely monitor the Maine Legislature to make sure they are conducting business in an open and accessible manner. Because of that, we hold ourselves to the same standard. Our positions and actions are public and, while we wholeheartedly stand behind our established positions, we welcome discussion about our work. Impact on Issues is one of the ways that we work to educate our members and the public about our work.

This report describes our current priorities and the positions that are the basis for our advocacy work. It’s also a ten-year retrospective of the work that we’ve done in these policy areas. Our positions align with those of the League of Women Voters of the U.S. (LWVUS) but reflect local priorities and the unique nature of Maine’s citizenry and politics. We focus on areas of specific concern in our state, with an emphasis on voting rights, elections administration, campaign finance and good government.

We also endeavor to shine a light on policy work in Augusta throughout each legislative session. We regularly report on specific bills, legislative committees, hearings, work sessions and other aspects of Maine government through this blog. This year, we’re expanding our work in this area to better track what goes on in Augusta. Look for:

  • legislative scorecards on selected bills we follow
  • Action Alerts, updates and event info on Twitter and Facebook
  • an updated version of Impact on Issues after the legislative session ends

At the foundation of our work is the belief that any and all citizens should be able to access (and understand) our government if they want to. We hope you’re inspired to make use of all that the League has to offer to stay informed. And if you’re ready to take action:

  • Join us! There are lots of ways to get involved in state and local issues through the state League and local chapters.
  • Go to a legislative hearing/work session – look for us (with our League buttons on)!
  • Call your legislators
  • Write an op-ed in your local newspaper

 

 

Ranked Choice Voting: the people’s choice

NOTE: This alert went out to League members and the public today.

The Maine people passed Ranked Choice Voting (Ballot Issue #5) in November. Now, instead of enacting the law, Maine legislators are proposing to subvert regular order by asking for the courts to weigh in. (more on that here)

The League of Women Voters of Maine is encouraging legislators to follow regular process and respect the will of the people. Find out why – and what you can do to help – below…

 

Dear Members and Friends of LWVME,

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) was approved by voters last November. It’s the law of the State of Maine.  The League has been a strong supporter of RCV since we endorsed the policy in 2011, and we continue to support full and robust implementation of the law for 2018.

This week, the Maine State Senate is expected to consider a procedural move — as early as today — that would call into question the constitutionality of Maine’s Ranked Choice Voting law.  The Senate will vote on whether to ask the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for a solemn occasion, under which the Court might issue an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of RCV. yesonfive

While we have not seen the actual question that the Senate will pose to the Court, we think the solemn occasion is inappropriate at this time and that the Legislature should focus on implementing the will of the voters without delay.

We believe:

  • The enacted law has the presumption of constitutionality.
  • The Legislature should honor the will of the people and proceed to implement this law in full for 2018.
  • If the Legislature had passed this law, they would presume it to be constitutional; they should apply the same standard to a law passed by the voters.
  • The standard for a solemn occasion is very high in order to preserve the separation of powers between the judicial and the legislative branches.
  • The regular order should be preserved. The Court should not be asked to weigh in prior to the implementation of the law.
  • If an aggrieved party chooses to raise a legal challenge after 2018, it will be addressed by the courts then.  But it is not clear that such a challenge will be raised then or ever.

If the Senate votes to make such a request of the Court, the Court will have to decide first whether the current circumstance rises to the high bar for a solemn occasion.  If it does not, there is no further action required of the Court.  If the Court does find a solemn occasion exists, it will issue an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of the new law. An adverse opinion would not strike down the law but would advise the Senate whether action might be needed by the Legislature to clear the constitutional impediment.

While we believe the constitutional arguments are strong in favor of RCV, as we have stated previously, we understand that the question of RCV constitutionality is not settled law.  We believe the solemn occasion will not firmly settle that question and is out of order.

There may be some occasions where the Court should weigh in on a legislative issue, but this is not one of them. The law has been duly enacted by the people, and we have not seen a legitimate need for a legislative question to the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of a law already on the books — especially one enacted by the people.

Please call your Senator at (207) 287-1540 and tell him/her to reject the call for a solemn occasion.

Please stay tuned to keep abreast of developments over the next few days and weeks.

Wine & Whine: Post-Election Recovery Tactics

Portland-Area League members and guests gathered on a rainy evening to unwind after a long and contentious election. The meeting room at Peloton Labs on Congress Street was bursting at the seams for the second post-election Whine and Wine event.

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The purpose of the gathering was to offer people a non-partisan (or multi-partisan) way to debrief or process the election – no matter how they voted or how they feel about the results. With an eye toward the League’s continuing work and the many issues facing our state, guest speakers Meredith Burgess, Cynthia Dill, and John Brautigam led a wide-ranging discussion that included Ranked Choice Voting, the two-party political system, and ways to get involved in the democratic process.

With over thirty attendees, it was a lively night. And, it was the League at its best: uniting people to discuss and work for democracy.

Voting: A Celebration of Democracy

By Stephanie Philbrick

 

I vote because I see it as a civic duty. I’m now 72 and have voted in every local/state/Federal election since I turned 18.
– Suzanne Carmichael, League member

 

Now that is true patriotism! Suzanne isn’t alone in her dedication to our country, though. Many of us consider voting a right and a responsibility. Deep down, we feel that voting is a celebration of our democracy – a chance to show our dedication to our country.

The constitutional amendments that address voting begin with “The right of citizens of the United States to vote…” but what if they began with “The responsibility of the citizens of the United States to vote…” instead? How would that change our country and our view of voting? Some people still face barriers to voting but we also know that apathy is one of the main reasons that people don’t vote.

For some of us it took so long to gain the right that it just seems crazy that in 2012 only 54.9% of the voting population cast a vote in the Presidential election. Even within the last 75 years, so many of us couldn’t vote:

  • Some Native Americans didn’t get the right to vote until 1957.
  • In 1952, Asian American immigrants were finally allowed to become citizens – and to vote.
  • Residents of Washington D.C. couldn’t vote for President until 1961!
  • And it wasn’t until 1971 that the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.

It’s easy to be cynical right now and to think that our vote won’t matter. But not voting won’t fix the problems we face, and it won’t fix the dissatisfaction we feel when we look at our government. Changing our political landscape starts at the ballot box with our votes. Election Day is the one day we are all Americans and the one day we all have a hand in governing our country.

League member Christine DeTroy says it like this, “By voting I know that I am a participant in the larger community.” Our American political system is one of the things that unites us as a country, but our democracy only works if we participate. We do that by voting.

 

 

2016 Ballot Questions

On Election Day, Mainers will decide on several important (and possibly controversial) issues. There are five citizens initiatives and one bond issue on the ballot. This presentation provides the descriptions, background and yes/no arguments for all six of these questions.

Voting is your opportunity to have a say in planning for Maine’s future. Don’t miss your chance – be sure to vote.