AUGUSTA — A March statewide presidential primary vote could be in the works for Maine in 2020, if the next Legislature elected in November can figure out a way to pay for it.

Lawmakers on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted 12-0 Monday to approve a bill that would send voters to the polls instead of to a party caucus starting in 2020.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, gained broad bipartisan support, including from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, after this year’s caucuses for Democrats and Republicans were overrun with those wanting to participate in the process of selecting their party’s presidential candidate.

Democratic voters in some towns, including Portland, experienced long waits to get into their caucus locations while others were turned away. Republicans who held ballot voting at 21 locations across Maine saw many voters complaining about having to drive long distances to participate in the system.

“Neither the caucus or primary system is perfect,” Alfond told members of the committee last week. “I know there are some that say we should keep the caucuses and just try to do better next time. But just because a caucus can work well doesn’t mean it’s a system to engage all voters. The caucus system excludes many that otherwise would vote.”

The bill, LD 1673, calls for the Secretary of State to set up a primary election on a Tuesday in March after consulting with Democratic and Republican party leaders on a date.

The measure also requires Maine to revert back to a caucus system if the next Legislature does not find a way to pay for a primary election every four years, which is expected to cost the state at least $1 million.

The bill will go to the state Senate for consideration there.

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