Open primaries bill clears both Maine House and Senate

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Jun. 9—AUGUSTA — The Maine House voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to support a bill that would allow unenrolled voters to cast ballots in primary elections without having to join the party.

The bipartisan, 92-52 vote came one day after the Senate gave the bill preliminary approval on a 27-7 vote. While additional votes are still necessary, the lopsided tallies in both chambers suggest the bill, L.D. 231, is headed for final passage in what would be a major win for supporters who have been pushing to open up Maine's primary elections for years.

Under current law, unenrolled or independent voters can cast ballots in a primary election but only if they register with that particular party. They are then prevented from withdrawing from the party for at least three months.

The bill moving through the Legislature would create "semi-open" primaries, which allow unenrolled voters — who currently account for roughly one-third of all registered voters in Maine — to cast ballots in one party's primary each election without having to join the party starting in the 2024 elections. The bill would not change the current requirement that voters who are members of a party must change their registration at least 15 days prior to an election in order to participate in another party's primary.

Two years ago, a similar bill failed to pass both the House and the Senate.

This story will be updated.

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