Most people wouldn’t expect someone like me to be involved in politics. As a young black female activist, the odds are not in my favor. Fortunately, I managed to get engaged anyway, but many people like me don’t do the same.

Safiya Khalid

Some might argue that young people and immigrants need to be proactive about participating in the political process. I agree. But we also must recognize the barriers to entry that exist for marginalized communities and do what we can to remove those barriers.

My experience has led me to believe that my party needs to broaden its appeal to more voters and to do so earlier in the campaign cycle. Inclusion and collaboration make politics work. I am encouraged by several bills working through the State House this session that would help to support more participation in the political process.

Speaker Sarah Gideon has introduced a bipartisan bill to create an automatic voter registration system in Maine. The proposal decreases barriers to entry for those who have not yet registered to vote, particularly newly naturalized citizens and millennials. However, we cannot stop at simply registering new voters.

We must make a concerted effort to invite new voters, many of whom are unenrolled, to take the next step and cast a ballot in every election. Unfortunately, right now, we’re not doing that. Current election law is outdated and excludes a large cohort of friends and neighbors from participating in the process.

Thirty-five percent of Maine voters are unenrolled (38 percent in Androscoggin County). Commonly referred to as “independents,” these voters are not permitted to participate in taxpayer-funded primary elections. This is especially egregious when considering that, due to redistricting, 70 percent of Maine’s legislative races are effectively decided in the primary elections.


When launching her “When We All Vote” initiative in 2018, former First Lady Michelle Obama explained that, “Voting is the only way to ensure that our values and priorities are represented in the halls of power. And it’s not enough to just vote for president every four years. We all have to vote in every single election.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Mrs. Obama. If my fellow Democrats and Mainers agree, they should join me and 80 percent of Maine voters in supporting opening Maine’s primaries to unenrolled voters.

The Democratic Party has always promoted the values of inclusiveness and increased voter participation. We should uphold these values and get behind these common-sense election reforms.

The Maine Legislature will soon have the opportunity to right the wrong when they vote on LD 211, “An Act To Open Maine’s Primaries.” When people do register to vote, many often register as unenrolled because the parties don’t speak to us or we don’t know how to participate in them. So, having open primaries — where people who are unenrolled can choose to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary — would be a beneficial thing.

Democracy is strengthened when more people participate and when the public feels that the outcomes of elections reflect the will of the citizenry. That is why, in addition to passing Speaker Gideon’s automatic voter-registration legislation, legislators should also take a serious look at proposals to open Maine’s primaries and scrap the Electoral College for a national popular vote. Also, they should pass a constitutional amendment to allow ranked-choice voting in state elections.

Safiya Khalid worked as a field organizer for the Maine Democratic Party in Lewiston. She has been the clerk for the Labor and Housing Committee in the Legislature and participated in the Emerge candidate training that gives Democratic women the tools to run in elections and win. She has been elected to the executive committee of the Maine Democratic Party and is the vice chairwoman of the Lewiston Democratic Party.

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