Is Maine the healthiest democracy in the union?

Topsham poll worker Anette Philippon collects ballots during a special election on August 27. BDN photo by Troy Bennett.

Topsham poll worker Anette Philippon collects ballots during a special election in 2013. BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett.

Ours is the healthiest democracy in the whole country, according to the political wing of the Center for American Progress.

The progressive policy group ranked the states for factors such as ballot accessibility, representation in state government and voter influence in the political system. When all the factors were tallied, Maine came out at No. 1.

The factors considered by CAP have a decidely liberal lean. States were docked points for having Voter ID laws and awarded points for having generous public campaign finance systems — both of which run contrary to conservative positions on those issues.

That said, the report is interesting by way of comparing Maine with other states.

Some examples of areas where CAP gave Maine high marks:

  • Ours is one of just 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, that offers preregistration to 16- and 17-year-old future voters.
  • Very short wait times for the polls on Election Day, with voters waiting an average of 3.7 minutes to vote in 2012 and 4.4 minutes in 2008.
  • Maine joins Vermont as the only states without voting restrictions on felons or anyone else with a criminal record.
  • At $3,000, Maine’s is among the lowest individual campaign contribution limits in the country.
  • Maine is one of just 14 states with public campaign financing.
  • Maine ranked in the top tier for having proportionate congressional and state districts, meaning neither party is overrepresented in the districts.

Some of the (few) areas where Maine was docked points:

  • No online voter registration.
  • Maine got a “D” for transparency in legislative data from the Sunlight Foundation, a metric included in CAP’s scorecard.

Here’s the interactive website outlining the report’s findings, and here’s the full report.

Aside from those considered by the Center for American Progress, I can think of a few other peculiarities of Maine politics that lend themselves to a more open, democratic process.

For example, lawmakers are allowed to submit as many bills as they like. In the first year of a legislative cycle, every single bill is guaranteed a public hearing at which regular Mainers can lobby for or against the bill, and a floor vote in both the House and Senate. In the second year, only emergency bills are admitted, but each one is still guaranteed a hearing and a vote.

That’s not the case in many other states, where legislative leaders and committees have far more discretion over whether a bill ever sees the light of day.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.