AUGUSTA – Tim Mills told lawmakers Monday that the “depraved animal” who murdered his 19-year-old daughter in 2007 should not be allowed to vote while serving his time in prison.

“It is reprehensible, offensive and unjust these criminals are able to vote under Maine law,” said Mills during a hearing before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.

Mills said he took his daughter Aleigh to the voting booth every year to teach her about citizenship. She voted only once before she was murdered, he said.

John A. Okie, 22, was convicted in 2010 of murdering his father, John S. Okie, and Aleigh Mills. He will be in prison for at least 50 years.

Tim Mills testified in support of L.D. 573, which would prohibit convicted murderers and other Class A felons from voting while incarcerated. In addition to murder, Class A crimes in Maine include manslaughter and gross sexual assault.

Maine and Vermont are the only states that allow felons to vote while they’re in prison.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, called it “strange and inappropriate” that Maine is one of the two states.

“I think we’re a little bit of a laughingstock here in Maine,” Knight said. “This is a case where it’s an embarrassment to be leading. We’re not leading. We’re trailing. We’re outliers. We’re the ones who are off-base.”

The bill drew opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the Maine Council of Churches, the League of Women Voters of Maine, the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, the NAACP and Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

They argued that convicts are punished by incarceration, that voting helps felons stay connected to the communities to which they will return, and that it would be an administrative nightmare to determine which felons can vote in prison and which ones cannot.

Bob Talbot of the Bangor branch of the NAACP read a statement from the Maine State Prison chapter of the organization. The statement referred to the five previous votes by legislators since 1999 to reject efforts to prevent felons from voting.

“It is difficult to understand why this issue keeps returning year after year,” he said. “We can look to 48 other states for proof that this legislation will do nothing to prevent crime or protect citizens. We grew up in Maine communities and most of us will one day return to them.”

Civil-rights advocates, in a prepared statement, criticized the proposed law by saying attempts to limit voter participation disproportionately affect minorities and poor people, who are jailed at higher rates.

“As a state that leads the way on voting rights and takes great pride in civic participation, we should not undermine this essential freedom,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, in a statement.

Dunlap said prisoners now vote with absentee ballots from the cities and towns where they lived before they were convicted. He said vengeance is not a good reason to change the state Constitution to prevent a particular group of people from voting.

“The use of the word ‘felon’ is very convenient because it creates in the public mind the faceless menace,” he said. “That these are not actual people, that somehow these are monsters and we are somehow protecting society one step further. The question that comes to my mind is, what does the act of casting a ballot have to do with serving one’s debt to society for any crime?”

The committee will consider the bill in a work session in the coming weeks. Given that four of the co-sponsors serve on the committee, the bill is likely to go to the House for consideration. It needs two-thirds support in the House and Senate to be sent to voters on a future ballot.

Jackie Dion of Livermore, whose sister-in-law Judy Flagg, 23, was stabbed to death in 1983 in Fayette, told lawmakers that Flagg’s killer, Thomas H. Mitchell Jr., should not be able to vote.

Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison in June 2009.

“In 1983, Thomas Mitchell gave up his right to freedom,” she said. “Judy Flagg is not able to speak. Her rights have been taken away forever.”

 

Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com