Times Record: Aug 27? (July 17, 2013)

August 27?


We’re sure there must be good reasons at the state level for rushing the date of a special election for the open Senate District 19 seat so it occurs on a nondescript Tuesday at the end of August.

But those reasons allow only two weeks for party-nominated candidates to register with the state, then only four weeks to run a campaign in which they boast their qualifications to represent one of Maine’s most diverse districts in a closely divided, partisan chamber.

Is it to save money? No, this is a standalone election. Dovetailing it with the traditional November poll would have saved money, by reducing the costs municipalities must bear to stage an election.

Is it to expedite attendance in a key committee or panel at the State House? Obviously not. The Legislature adjourned last week.

We’ve been to midsummer Town Meetings and seen their dwindling attendance. It’s a place where government is at its most direct, and where budgets and social issues are often decided by a few votes. These meetings are always swung by an impassioned citizen and a few of his or her friends who dare to hold out through the entire warrant in a sweltering school gym, usually on a Saturday in the summer.

Is this what we want for Senate District 19? The campaign is too important to take place over four weeks. We’ll barely hear a peep out of those who work day jobs (and those are invariably the people we want to see serving). Money will flood in in a cacaphony of ads and lawn signs and jammed into a timeframe so short most voters may not be able to discern — or care — who said what.

The debunked allegations of voter fraud and the temporary abolition of same-day registration aside, Maine prides itself on its voter conduct. Its turnout for midterm elections — 55 percent in 2012 — was the nation’s highest, according to the United State Election Project.

But four weeks? For a key state Senate race with at least four eminently qualified candidates? Seems like a disservice to the voters of Dresden and Sagadahoc County — and perhaps to Republicans.

Why Republicans? Recall 2012, down the coast a ways, to Senate District 20, where Democrat Chris Johnson beat Republican Dana Dow in a traditionally Republican district after a campaign that lasted … four weeks. Dow said he didn’t hit the trail until Jan. 11 — four weeks before the Feb. 14 election — and blamed his defeat, at lest in part, on the short campaign.

Only 27 percent of eligible Massachusetts voters cast a ballot in a recent special election for U.S. Senate — a record low that shows how voters feel about midterm and special elections, even in high-stakes races like that one.

We’ll certainly do our part to educate voters, beginning with Monday’s profile by reporter Larry Grard of Democratic candidate Eloise Vitelli and continuing this week and next with profiles of David Sinclair, Will Neilson, Paula Benoit and whomever is selected as the Green Independent.

But it looks like only a handful of us is going to choose our next state senator, sending them to Augusta to join one of the most cantankerous sessions in recent years.

That’s not our idea of democracy. The right move would have been to set the date on traditional Election Day, in November.


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