If one-third of a high school graduating class would fail to graduate every year, I think most people in Auburn would think that would be dismal. And I would agree. But all would have another chance to graduate.

However, it appears that about one-third of the voting age population, and often more, fail to vote every year; and 67% is sometimes even noted as a “good turnout.” The results are final.

I find this lack of participation represents a clear danger to this nation’s democracy. It shows that one-out-of-three people of voting age are so separated from our democracy that they may not trust it, may not care, may not even know much about it, may not believe it affects their lives or are just completely disgusted.

When a large number of people believe that democracy is not useful, democracy itself is threatened. The lack of participation is like the canary in the coal mine. Our canary is very sick.

I have learned that elections are profoundly important in everyone’s lives, whether people believe that or not. Many people live or die due to actions taken by the federal and state governments, as well as local.

Our whole planet is at both an immediate, and a long term risk, and that was true before COVID-19. In Maine, the local government has the best personal resources to change it.

While we cannot even begin to address all the issues, I think it is extremely important that we focus on this basic issue in a democracy. We need to support, encourage, facilitate and help all of our citizens to vote, and have all citizens know that their right and ability to vote and participate in our democracy is protected, safe and secure.

To accomplish that end, I would first suggest that the city put the effort to encourage people to vote as the top priority. That includes voter registration.

Elections are the engine that runs all of the city, state and country. Without elections, we do not have a democracy. In our system, schools, fire protection, police protection — or anything else — would not exist without the elections that begin the decision-making process.

I find that voting in the same regular place promotes a level of trust in the election process. Efforts to change have some people losing their trust in the city’s commitment to guarantee their right to vote. If our best locations provide us with difficulties, such as having elections in schools, probably schools need to be shut down for the day to allow democracy to proceed as best possible. A state holiday on our candidate election days would help that out. If staffing is a problem, having all non-emergency personnel working on elections could help, including the school department staff. Recruit high school or college students.

Mailing every voter an absentee ballot application, listing all specific ways that one can request an absentee ballot, could help immensely. That would double as assuring people they are registered to vote. The letter would also include changes in polling locations, with everything in large print. Having a way to inform each citizen that their absentee ballot was received and approved would assure their vote is counted and improve trust and faith in elections.

Having early absentee voting at all the congregate housing sites, prior to the election, could produce improved results.

I would want to assure that voters who are physically at risk are not made to execute a task that is extremely difficult for them, like having to walk extremely long distances. Making sure those at risk do not collapse due to overexertion, should be addressed. Providing transportation to new polling places could help.

In any event, long-term solutions, like assuring all citizens are registered, and long-term voting locations, need to be addressed, both at the local and state level.

In summary, assuring that all voting is encouraged, protected, safe and secure, is the primary responsibility of all elected governments. In Auburn, that is entrusted to the Auburn City Council and the city of Auburn staff. Every one of our citizens needs to know that their right and ability to vote is supported and guaranteed.

Fred Brodeur represented part of Auburn in the Maine House of Representatives from 1979 to 1986. He has a part-time private practice in social work in Auburn.


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