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The fastest emerging narrative following Mainers’ resounding vote to uphold Election Day Registration was that the decisive margin signaled a rejection of initiatives advanced by the Republican controlled Legislature.
"It demonstrates clearly (that voters) are frustrated with Republican leadership in Augusta," Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant told the Portland Press Herald following the 60 to 40 vote in favor of retaining EDR. "That was a pretty big indictment of their approach."
Are Democrats right to think that way?
Time will tell, but it may be instructive to consider what kind of campaign the supporters of EDR ran before jumping to any conclusions.
Democrats and progressive groups were undoubtedly the champions of EDR. With a few exceptions, it would be difficult to describe members of the coalition that comprised the Protect Maine Votes political action committee as right of center. After all, it’s hard to imagine the group OneMaine, which bills itself as a haven for independents frustrated with the extreme ideologies of the established political parties, aligning itself with Republicans on very many issues.
But despite the decidely left-leaning membership of Protect Maine Votes – and its financial backers – the coalition made a concerted effort to make sure the EDR debate wasn’t a partisan one.
Even during the debate that led to the law that attempted to repeal EDR, groups like the ACLU of Maine told the public that same-day voter registration benefited all Mainers regardless of party. Thousands of Republicans had used it in 2010 when the GOP swept into power. Democrats and independents used it, too.
The coalition that formed the people’s veto campaign recycled this message.
"Same-day voter registration works for everyone. It has for nearly 40 years," went the refrain.
The Yes on 1 ads never mentioned political parties. The closest it came was during the group’s final 30-second TV spot in which the narrator “politicians in Augusta” had tried to take away these voting rights.
"Politicians," not Republicans.
The coalition stayed on message, even as Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster tried to make EDR a partisan issue and mobilize Republicans.
Even when it was over, when every Maine county in Republican- and Democrat-leaning districts voted to retain Maine’s 38-year-old EDR law, the message was consistent.
"What this shows is that all Mainers — Republicans, Democrats and independents — take their voting rights very seriously," David Farmer, spokesman for Protect Maine Votes, told the Sun Journal.
That the campaign was a battle against a Republican initiative may have been obvious to political junkies. But that’s not what the general public heard from the Protect Maine Votes campaign.
Given that this non-partisan message resonated with an overwhelming majority of voters, are Democrats right to claim that Mainers are frustrated with the Republican Legislature? Maybe.
Or maybe a lot of Mainers who support other GOP initiatives were indifferent to this one, as Webster claimed on Election night. Maybe that in itself is an indictment of GOP attempt to repeal EDR, but of their leadership in its totality?
Maybe the vote on Election Day was representative of the coalition’s impressive get-out-the-vote effort (GOTV). But again, if the GOTV drive is what pushed people to the polls on Tuesday, do those voters represents a broad cross-section of Mainers, or simply a segment of voters already sympathetic to Democratic causes?
That’s a lot of maybes, a lot of questions.
We’ll find out in 2012 if Democrats or Republicans have the answers.