The Maine Senate overwhelmingly supported a bill to open Maine primaries to unenrolled voters on Tuesday.
The proposal submitted by Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, and Assistant Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, would allow voters to cast a ballot in a primary without registering with a political party.
The bill initially passed with a 27-7 vote and faces further votes. If it succeeds, it would put Maine among 21 states to have at least semi-open primaries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The measure would stop short of truly open primaries, which allow people to vote across party lines without changing affiliation, but they could dramatically shift the conversation in Augusta and beyond with roughly one-third of voters unenrolled in November.
The state currently allows unenrolled voters to vote in whatever primary they choose so long as they enroll in the party before voting. If the change passes, unenrolled voters who choose a primary would not be enrolled in a party but would be counted as party members for choosing delegates to state and national conventions.
The legislation has gained the support of former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District. Prior efforts to create change around primaries have failed. Democrats unilaterally supported the bill but Republicans took a mixed stance, with Senate Republican Minority Leader Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, and six others voting against Sen. Pouliot, the Senate Republican Assistant Minority Leader.