Commentary

Maine should pump the brakes on controversial voting reform efforts

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This legislative session, lawmakers on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee held public hearings on three bills that would make major changes to the way Mainers cast their election ballots. LD 202, sponsored by Sen. Dave Miramant, would amend the Maine Constitution to allow for the use of ranked-choice voting in state-level general elections. LD 580, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Moriarty, would amend the constitution to enshrine early voting by absentee ballot. LD 706, sponsored by Rep. Maggie O’Neil, would lower the statewide voting age to 16 years.

Confidence in our country’s long established and respected voting system is now beginning to unravel. A system that has served us well for over two centuries is under assault by those that are unwilling to accept the will of the voters. The democratic aspects of our republic are best served by a system of “one person, one vote” and a well-informed electorate. LDs 202 and 580 do nothing to improve democracy, but would only contribute to its demise.

By far, LD 706 is the most egregious of the three proposals. Although 16- and 17-year-old children are protected from the consequences of executing contracts and purchasing firearms (both protections being based on the assumption that they lack the maturity to understand the responsibilities associated with their actions), the sponsors of this legislation carelessly would allow 16- and 17-year-old children the ability to make decisions for society.

The best way for me to further convey the basis for my concern over this proposal is by including an excerpt from an article in Smithsonian Magazine that explores how the voting age has been adjusted over time, and Maine’s Emancipation Statute that provides for a very stringent process to determine the ability of a 16-year-old to exercise self-determination.

From Smithsonian Magazine:

“Many historians and journalists have attributed the Amendment’s passage to the work of anti-war protesters of the 1960s, who could be conscripted into military service at 18 but could not vote until 21. But the real history is more layered than that.

“The fight to lower the voting age began in earnest decades earlier, in the early 1940s, in response to a different conflict: World War II. Between 1940 and 1942, Congress passed successive Selective Service laws that lowered the military draft age first from 21 to 20, then from 20 to 18 in 1942. The 1942 age limit sparked debate in Congress about the connection between the voting age of 21 and the age of military service, and the fairness of conscripting men into service who could not vote.

If young men are to be drafted at 18 years of age to fight for their Government,” said Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan as Congress considered his bill to lower the voting age, they ought to be entitled to vote at 18 years of age for the kind of government for which they are best satisfied to fight.”

Maine’s emancipation statute lays out an arduous process for a juvenile to separate from their parents. If a child refuses to live in the home provided by their parents or guardian, the juvenile can request the District Court to appoint counsel for the juvenile to petition for emancipation.

The petition must state the facts of why the juvenile seeks emancipation, along with the juvenile’s personal information, their parent or guardian’s information, and the address of residence.

From there, the court can refer the parties to mediation, and any agreement reached must be made in writing and sent back to the court for approval. If a petition is filed, the court will schedule a hearing, notify all parties involved about the time and date of the hearing, the consequences of an emancipation order, the right to present evidence and be represented by legal counsel.

The court can order emancipation if the juvenile “has made reasonable provision for the juvenile’s room, board, health care and education, vocational training or employment” and if the court determines the juvenile is “sufficiently mature to assume responsibility for the juvenile’s own care and it is int he juvenile’s best interest to do so.” The court may also deny the petition if these conditions aren’t met.

We are a nation of laws, and the underpinnings of our ability to continue to thrive relies on our ability to establish and maintain societal norms. Lowering the voting age to 18 provides an excellent example of just that; our elected representatives balanced the obligation to serve to protect our country by granting to these individuals the right to participate in our democracy. LD 706 lacks any historical basis to justify its passage, and is inconsistent with the theory regarding maturity enshrined in Maine’s emancipation statute.

I urge Maine lawmakers to vote against LDs 202, 580 and 706 this session.

About Deborah Delp

Deborah Delp is President of Yankee Marina & Boatyard, a small family-owned, second generation business in Yarmouth, Maine. Working with her two brothers and a crew of 27, she is familiar with the profound effect legislation can have on all small family businesses across the state and remains active in state and local politics.

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