Voting for Maine’s Future
By Pamela M. Green
Name this Legislator:
A Edward R. Dugay
(D) Maine House
B Kevin L. Shorey
(R) Maine Senate
C Joseph Bruno
(R) Maine House
D Russell P. Treadwell
(R) Maine House
If you can answer this correctly, you score points in the “Who Am I” game, an online quiz (www.amfvote.com) in which you look at Maine lawmakers’ mug shots and try to pick their names from four choices given. You receive points for correct answers, and a final score that lets you know just how politically savvy you are.
The game is part of the Alliance For Maine’s Future’s (AMF) undertaking to attract voter attention to the political process. AMF Executive Director Abby Holman believes it is citizens’ duty to get involved: “Is our system political? Yes. Our founding fathers created it that way. Being political – which is different from being partisan – means being active and engaged. Positive politics is having people engaged in the process.”
Americans give lots of reasons for not voting: lack of awareness, apathy, confusion or the belief that their vote does not make a difference. The fact is, every vote does count. In the last election cycle, 25 seats in the Maine House of Representatives were decided by less than 200 votes. Five Maine Senate contests were decided by less than 500 votes. Voter turnout in Maine is actually higher than the national average. In the November 2002 election, 52 percent of registered Mainers voted, and in the presidential election of 2000, Maine was second in the nation after Minnesota with a 67 percent voter turnout. While this is a good start, there is still work to be done.
Toward a Better Economy
The Alliance for Maine’s Future, founded by business people and now numbering more than 500 members, has as its ultimate goal a better Maine economy. The steps along the way will include recruiting pro-business and pro-economy candidates, registering people to vote, informing them about candidates and issues, and making sure that they actually vote. The Alliance is taking its case into the workplace to help employers register employees to vote and educate them on the issues and candidates on the November ballot.
AMF takes a tough stand on Maine’s sluggish economic climate, linking it directly to decisions that were made by the Legislature, and were underwritten by the electorate via their political choices. Loss of jobs, the exodus of young people looking for opportunity and a heavy tax burden are cited as evidence of a less-than-favorable business climate. The Alliance Web site distributes information on economic issues at www.allianceformaine.org (see sidebar on next page), and has a goal of addressing Maine’s economic problems by recruiting superior candidates for the Legislature. AMF will look to candidates who are experienced, thoughtful, “business friendly” people willing to listen to both sides of an issue and understand the importance of the economic environment to Maine's businesses and working families.
The recruiting of pro-economy candidates has begun, but will really gather steam in the next election, according to Abby Holman. Pro-business candidates have made an impact in the past. Independent Gov. James Longley, entrepreneur Les Otten and Cianbro executive Chuck Cianchette were high-profile executives who entered the political arena as businessmen. Holman would like to see more business activism on a sustained basis.
“In order for a drive to elect pro-business candidates to really have an effect, it needs to happen for more than one election cycle,” she says.
The Maine Economic Research Institute (MERI) shares the pro-economy goals of the AMF. Formed in 1999 by a group of business leaders, MERI’s stated mission is “to improve Maine’s business environment by providing objective information to enhance economic policy making.” MERI President Ed McLaughlin reviews and tracks key legislation that has a business impact, and he rates legislators based on their business-related voting record. MERI emphasizes that it is non-partisan and does no lobbying. Its board of directors is composed of Democrats, Independents and Republicans. McLaughlin’s focus is on researching legislation, analyzing and reporting its impact.
In 2002, MERI conducted its Maine Senior Management Survey, asking a cross-section of 673 leaders from diverse industries what they thought about Maine’s business climate. A total of 88 percent of the respondents considered the overall business climate in Maine poorer than that of other states and Canada; 85 percent felt the perception of Maine’s business climate by business executives in other states is negative; and 89 percent believed the overall cost of doing business in Maine is higher than in other states (see www.me-ri.org).
MERI believes that business groups must work together to change the climate. While the business community has not always been well organized for political activism, Ed McLaughlin feels more positive about that than in the past: “I get a sense of more communication going on, more people getting things going in the right direction. I hope our legislators pay attention.”
Finding business-friendly candidates is not always easy, and allowing employees time off from work to serve in the Legislature can be tough. The law firm of Pierce Atwood created a pamphlet to help businesses that are developing a policy on employees running for the Legislature. “Helping Your Employees Serve in the Maine Legislature: A Guide for Maine Employers” is a 10-page pamphlet covering issues such as time commitment, compensation options and conflicts of interest. It acknowledges that time away from work can be substantial, but maintains that the benefits of legislative service are significant both to the employee and the employer.
The Pierce Atwood guide cites the firm’s 2003 survey of Maine business leaders which found that “only 11 percent of business decision-makers have any confidence in the Legislature’s ability to promote and foster business development.” Fifty percent of the respondents went on to rate the value of state services for taxes paid as terrible or poor, while 38 percent deemed it only fair. The guide encourages employers to view legislative service as a way to improve the legislative process and “foster an economic climate that is more conducive to economic growth and prosperity for all Maine people.”
Every Vote Counts
Believing that the workplace is a good place to both register and educate voters, the Maine Association of Community Banks has joined forces with the Alliance for Maine’s Future to get out the vote in November.
Employees across the country rate their employers as the single most trusted source of election information, and research shows that employees who receive information from their employers are 15 percent to 30 percent more likely to vote. MERI’s McLaughlin says that research shows employees believe in what their employers say – even more than they believe in unions or political parties. Employers are often hesitant to get involved in the political process, but providing employees with sound information is not telling them how to vote. In McLaughlin’s view, if you provide employees with good data they will make their own decisions and do the right thing when they vote.
The association’s “Every Vote Counts” program provides member banks with forms, posters, materials and information to educate their employees about voting and the issues, right up to Election Day. Participating banks can do one of several things: hold a voter registration event as part of a company outing, in-house seminar or staff meeting; circulate voter registration applications during staff meetings; send a broadcast e-mail announcing information about the bank’s voter registration program; or set up a voter registration area in a visible place such as a lunchroom or reception area. Voter registration forms and other materials are available to help banks in any or all of these methods.
The “Every Vote Counts” campaign has a baseball theme, with an owner (bank CEO), coach (association representative), team manager (selected by CEO), team captains (department managers) and players (participating bank staff). A team rally kicks off the drive, recruits players, and sets team goals. Step one is to make sure employees are registered to vote. The bank gets the forms into the hands of employees, along with self-addressed envelopes to the Office of the Secretary of State.
Once employees are registered to vote, the second step is to inform them about the issues. Banks are encouraged to invite candidates to the bank or host a candidate debate night, and also disseminate information to employees about election issues. MACB, working with AMF, will support the teams with election issue updates during the month of October and will send reminders to vote in the last weeks before the election.
Said Holman of AMF: “If we just send people to the polls and don’t help them understand the issues, we haven’t accomplished our job.”
Once banks have their employees registered to vote, they can ensure that their employees actually vote by holding an Absentee Ballot Card (ABC) drive. The ABC is a card requesting an absentee ballot. Bank employees complete it and return it to AMF, which makes sure that the proper municipality sends a voter ballot to the employee. The employee completes the ballot and drops it in the mail before Election Day.
A key point to remember is that, by Maine law, voters need not be “absent” on Election Day to cast an absentee ballot. Registered voters can request an absentee ballot to be sent to an address of their choosing 30-45 days before the election. The ballot simply has to be mailed or dropped off at a municipal office before the polls close on Election Day.
In addition to the MACB “Every Vote Counts” campaign, banks can find a wealth of information on elections and voting from the Secretary of State’s Web site (www.state.me.us/sos). The site offers an online voter registration form and information on voter registration drives, voter rights and absentee voting. It also offers an election countdown logo which employers can copy and paste into an e-mail message, or add to a Web site. The Election Countdown Logo is available at www.maine.gov/portal/ government/edemocracy/promotethevote.html.
Banks and other employers have a captive audience of citizens – their employees – who want the best quality of life. Helping them understand relationships between candidates and issues and economic prosperity will benefit everyone.
By the way, the mystery legislator pictured at the beginning of this story is Kevin Shorey of Washington, who represents District 4 in the Maine State Senate.
Election Day is Nov. 2. Make your vote count!