I was dismayed, although not terribly surprised, when former Gov. Paul LePage recently opined on the radio that to allow the use of the popular vote to choose the president would give minorities more power and that “white people will not have anything to say.”

In addition to disappointing many by breaking his promise to live out his retirement in Florida, LePage was once again demonstrating his distaste for and fear of a more inclusive election system. He is scared of the “other.”

Unlike our former governor, I firmly believe that our democracy is only strengthened by increasing participation. Inclusivity should be not just encouraged, but actively nurtured as well.

Several efforts are underway to bring more voters into the process, and one that I am enthusiastically supporting is legislation that would open Maine’s primary elections to unenrolled voters, through L.D. 211, “An Act to Open Maine’s Primaries and Permit Unenrolled Voters to Cast Ballots in Primary Elections.”

Under current Maine statute, registered voters who are not enrolled in a party – commonly referred to as “independents” – are not permitted to vote in Maine’s primary elections. While we Mainers tend to pride ourselves on election reform and voter participation, Maine is one of only 11 states with closed primaries. Shame on us. Fortunately, this situation is also easily remedied with the passage of L.D. 211. Setting the stage for a “semi-open primary,” this legislation would allow unenrolled voters to participate in either the Republican or Democratic primary election.

Momentum for this important reform is moving in the right direction, and there is significant statewide support from Democrats, Republicans and independents.

It’s not surprising to see support for a semi-open primary gaining ground. A 2017 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, in partnership with Open Primaries, showed that 80 percent of Maine voters support permitting unenrolled-independent voters to participate in the primary elections.

Furthermore, more Maine voters are unenrolled than are members of either the Democratic or the Republican party. According to the data provided by the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, as of September 2018, 35 percent of Maine voters are unenrolled, 33 percent are Democrats and 27 percent are Republicans.

It is unfortunate that such a significant bloc of Maine voters is prohibited from participating in these taxpayer-funded elections. I urge leadership in both parties to support L.D. 211.

As a proud Democrat, I’m optimistic that since our party holds majority in both the House and the Senate that this legislation will easily pass. If Democrats want to lay claim as the party of inclusivity, they must also include political independents into the process.

Legislators cannot in good conscience condemn Paul LePage for his remarks and at the same time shut out 35 percent of Maine voters from participating fully in our democracy. At best, it’s hypocritical and at worst, it’s undemocratic.

In March 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress, announcing his intention to submit what would become known as the Voting Rights Act. It was at the height of the civil rights era, a week after deadly violence in Selma when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery to register voters.

That evening, addressing our nation’s leaders, President Johnson explained, “This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, or no hesitation, or no compromise with our purpose. We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in.

President Johnson was right. We must protect and reaffirm the right of all voters to participate in every election, including those who are unenrolled independents.

With such widespread public support among Maine voters, it is inevitable that independents will eventually be able to participate in primary elections. Just one question remains: Will our elected leaders listen to the will of the people and support L.D. 211? I, along with 80 percent of Maine voters, certainly hope so.