By Christopher W. Pinkham
I’ve always believed that everyone understood that the warning tag attached to your pillow was an idle threat, or at least not something to be concerned about. But we all know it’s always a point of at least a chuckle when someone snips it off and violates “Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law.” But the idea of “penalty of law” as a threat makes me think of an alternative message to stem voter apathy.
Now, I have been guilty of saying to people, if you don’t vote then you can’t complain until the next election, but I really know that is a hollow threat. Instead, I really should be seeking a commitment to support the democratic process. Maybe my message should be: vote or be penalized by the actions of those who you opted not to vote against. Who are these people anyway?
Maine claims to have great strengths in the percentage of voters. We claim that 52 percent of registered voters went to the polls two years ago. But what percentage of eligible citizens is even registered to vote? Experts have estimated that only 60 percent to 65 percent of the eligible voters are registered and, notably, fewer in the under-21 crowd. Possibly, then, our elections are determined by half of the two-thirds who are registered, or only 33 percent of those who could vote. So get more than 16.5 percent of the vote and your candidate or your referendum wins!
So how about instead of “please vote,” we coin the phrase, “vote or be punished under penalty of law!”
Late in August, I caught glimpses of MTV’s VMA (Video Music Awards, for those readers without teenagers), and what a surprise to see a pitch for political involvement and voter registration. But a pitch from whom, you ask? How about Jenna and Barbara Bush plus Alexandra and Vanessa Kerry, to give the viewers a lesson in democracy plus a pitch to vote for their respective dads.
This September, we’ve rolled out a campaign for Maine’s community banks: Every Vote Counts. The campaign is designed with two important goals. The first goal is voter registration. That goal is to register every bank employee who is eligible to vote. Our second goal is to get out the vote in person on Nov. 2, or alternatively by absentee ballot before Election Day. Kits for both registration and absentee voting are being distributed to banks for their internal campaigns.
Whether you’re motivated by pitches by candidates’ daughters, “punishment under penalty of law” or a sense of responsibility, we hope you all get the message – REGISTER and VOTE on Nov. 2.