AUGUSTA — I recently had the opportunity to participate on a panel in Washington discussing how easy or difficult it is to cast a ballot or run for office in the various states.

I learned that access to the freedoms and principles guaranteed under our Constitution is sometimes determined by ZIP code. I learned of horrendous waiting lines in Cleveland. I learned that just the act of registering to vote can be an ordeal in Mississippi. I learned how, in many states, running for the Legislature is difficult without personal wealth or access to major donors.

In many ways, we are so lucky here in Maine. In fact, I was pleased to learn that we rank first of all 50 states in a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund on the Health of State Democracies.

The report examines 22 factors across three categories of democracy and finds that Maine gets a B for accessibility of the ballot, an A for representation in state government and a B for influence in the political system.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels. Maine may rank first in the country for the health of our state’s democracy – something we should be very proud of – but there’s still significant room for improvement to ensure that all Mainers have a voice in our democracy.

That’s why more than 80,000 people signed a petition to place a referendum on this November’s ballot. The referendum, which will appear as Question 1, will ensure that everyone – not just the wealthy – is represented in our democracy.

It will strengthen transparency and accountability in elections by increasing fines and penalties for those who break our election laws and requiring wealthy special interests spending money on attack ads to disclose their top donors directly on their political advertisements so that Mainers know who is trying to influence their vote.

It will also limit the influence that wealthy donors and special interests have on our political system by reforming our state’s public campaign finance system.

This referendum would be the first campaign finance reform of its kind passed since Citizens United was decided by the Supreme Court and yet another example of how Maine is leading the way to ensure that the power of our democracy is in the hands of the people.

Of course, Maine is no exception, and it’s important to note that every state has room for improvement, no matter their rank in this report. From the report’s highest-ranking states, like Maine, to the lowest, each state can take concrete steps to improve its residents’ democratic experience.

For example, nearly every state must do more to address disproportionate representation, remove structural barriers to full participation and mitigate the influence of money in the political system – like Maine is doing with Question 1 this year. These are recurring and growing issues that plague our democratic system as a whole.

It’s how we address them that truly matters, which is why we should be so proud that thousands of Mainers – Democrats, Republicans, Greens and independents – are joining together to make meaningful changes to the state’s campaign finance laws this November.

These changes will ensure that any Mainer who is qualified to run for office – regardless of where they come from, their race, their gender or their economic status – can run a competitive race without being dependent on big money from corporations, unions or any other special interests.

This will elevate the voice of everyday Mainers in our political system and ensure that politicians are accountable to the people of Maine, not big-money groups spending millions to influence an election.

Maine should pride itself on the state of our democracy and the progress we’ve made, but we should use this as an opportunity to act and do more.

Any effort to effectively address the health of democracy on the state level and across the country must adequately tackle these issues. It’s critical that Maine live up to the American ideal, the Maine ideal, of liberty and justice for all.