As a former U.S. Marine working in the State House, the issues confronting veterans in Maine are never far from my mind. My overarching goal is to make the lives of everyday Mainers better.

One issue has come to the fore. I believe that every Mainer deserves to participate in every election, but those who have not declared a party affiliation do not get to vote in the taxpayer-funded primary elections. That is something that affects the state’s former service members disproportionately.

Chalk it up to the times. In the course of our everyday lives, we hear about the divisions in our state and country — wide chasms between the two major political parties and a us-versus-them mentality. Service members come back into civilian life with a very different mindset. We are accustomed to moving as one.

When we sign on the dotted line, we declare our willingness to sacrifice our lives for the good of the American citizenry. As members of a military unit, our word was our bond. Unity was the key. Whether deployed, wounded in battle or stationed at home, it is a sentiment we feel long after separation from service.

With that in mind, it is easy to understand how veterans might have a tough time declaring allegiance to one of the warring political parties, seemingly more so than other demographic groups. There is disdain in our ranks for the divisiveness and posturing. About 37% of recent war veterans have not declared party affiliation nationally. In Maine, those individuals are official known as “unenrolled.” Under current state law, unenrolled citizens can’t vote in primaries.

I think that needs to change.

I call upon the leaders of this state to find the common ground our military units did — regardless of beliefs, personalities or politics. Supporting changes in our electoral system is a great place to start. Opening Maine’s primaries to unenrolled voters will mean all voters’ voices will be heard, not just those with a stake in a particular political party.

I have heard the arguments against it — that the primaries are a mechanism of party politics. I reject that way of thinking. Only when all voices are heard can Maine begin to heal the fractures wrought by the party-centered political process. And let’s look at the ledger: we all pay the taxes that fund primaries. No one gets a break from that.

Current legislation pending in Augusta, LD 211, “An Act to Open Maine’s Primaries,” will serve to bring the political parties closer together and give all Mainers the voting franchise granted each of us by the U.S Constitution.

So, will it be taxation without representation — a concept that runs counter to the values of 80% of Mainers polled? Or will we look past our entrenchments to form a strong unit?

I think it is clear that the Legislature needs to do the right thing by all of us. State elected officials need to put aside party politics and come together and pass LD 211.

Jared Bornstein is a resident of Wayne.

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