After a decade of influencing local elections, the Maine League of Young Voters will no longer publish its popular voter guide, which has largely been viewed as a key to winning votes in Portland, the state’s largest city.
Several members of the league have broken off to form a new organization – The Voter Education Brigade – to help fill the void. The nonpartisan, grassroots organization announced its formation Wednesday, saying it would publish a voter guide covering candidates and ballot measures at “all levels of government.”
The Voter Education Brigade is founded by members of the league’s elections committee, including Zach Anchors, who chairs the new group, and Emma Halas-O’Connor, who is vice chair.
“We’ve already prepared questionnaires that we will soon send out to candidates in every race – from U.S. Senate to Cumberland County Sheriff,” Anchors said in a written statement. “We believe that keeping democracy alive involves more than voting once a year. It takes year-round engagement and constant effort to hold elected officials accountable.”
Anchors is the co-owner of Portland Paddles and a writer who lives on Munjoy Hill. He said group has a “mix of parties” involved.
“We live in a time when the extreme minority of wealthy individuals dominate elections with their message,” Halas-O’Connor said in a written statement. “By equipping voters with sound information and enabling easy access to candidates and elected officials, we can make sure Portland elections are focused on representing the people’s interests.”
The group will make its endorsements based on candidate interviews, questionnaires and public debates and forums. The voter guide will be published in October.
The Voter Education Brigade has about 25 members, the group said in a news release. It will hold a launch party May 8 at Think Tank in Portland.
The Maine League of Young Voters will continue as a volunteer effort but will no longer operate as a political action committee.
“It’s a big loss for all voters,” said David Marshall, a Green Independent who attributes his 2006 election to the Portland City Council to the league’s endorsement and support.
The league has struggled with funding in recent years.
Formed in 2004 amid mounting discontent with President George W. Bush and overseas wars, the league harnessed the anger of disenfranchised young people to take control of their local and state governments. The group, originally called the League of Pissed Off Voters, put out an annual voter guide that endorsed candidates and in some cases supported those candidates with funding and volunteers.
The group was supported by the national League of Young Voters – then called the League of Pissed Off Voters – and by the fundraising efforts of Justin Alfond, the group’s former director who is now the president of Maine Senate.
Since Alfond, a Democrat, left in 2008, the Maine league has gone through three directors. The group has been without a direct since Nicola (Wells) Chin left in January 2013.
Delia Gorham, the chair of the league’s steering committee, said the group had difficulty finding a replacement for Chin. That, coupled with a loss of funding from the national affiliate over the years, prompted the group to switch to an all volunteer model.
Current league by-laws prohibit people over 35 from participating. Gorham said that by spinning off the voter guide to a new group, older people will be able to be involved.
“We felt (the age limit) was a prohibitive barrier for people who want to stay involved and do this work,” Gorham said.
Gorham said the league will continue to work on voter registration and voter turn-out efforts for the upcoming election by focusing on college campuses and manning phone banks in the fall.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: