CAPE ELIZABETH — Gov. Mills, in issuing an executive order moving the primary election to July 14 and allowing for absentee ballot applications up to and including Election Day, declared, A persons right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, and I take seriously governments responsibility to ensure that every Maine person has the opportunity to have their voice heard.”

In 1820, when Maine became a state, Maines constitution granted the right to elect and oust governments to all male citizens over 21 except paupers, persons under guardianship and untaxed Indians.

Maine workers quickly learned, however, that constitutional rights were not self-executing. Examples of the threat to the jewel of democracy abound in early Maine history. In the national election of 1834, Maine employers were reported to have exerted pressure on their employees to vote right” and hired only those whose political views coincided with their own. In Portland, the Democratic newspaper Eastern Argus was quick to denounce The reign of Terror” as it described the actions of a merchant in the city who publicly stated that he would not employ a Shipmaster, Mechanic, or Labor(er)” who was opposed to him in politics.

The partisan paper wrote that Republican employers on the eve of the Civil War had warned their employees “if they did not vote the Republican ticket, they would have no further employment for them!” It was “a queer way,” noted the Argus, “to vindicate the great doctrine of human freedom and the independence of the franchise! Is this not … slavery for white men?”

In 1859, a Portland Sugar House employee echoed the message of voter intimidation, declaring that EVERY WORKMAN who dares to vote the Democratic ticket on Tuesday next, will be discharged from the concern!” Because, in textile mills, it was customary to dispense with the services of those who so vote (Democratic) … they are afraid to go to the polls except to vote the ticket of their superintendents.” 

Many workers in the granite industry were marched up like Chinese gangs to vote at the dictation of some officeholder as on Hurricane (Island).” Employers in the granite industry often get up colored ballots, contrary to law, to enable them to spot those who vote against the (Granite) Ring.” In 1868 reports indicated the Kittery Navy Yard vote factory is being put in order for the Maine election.”


The pervasiveness of the abuse or rigging of elections compelled Republican Gov. Selden Connors 1879 message to the Legislature, in which he took note of the need to prevent bribery and protect “the freedom and purity of elections.” In 1885, another Republican governor, Frederick Robie, echoed that concern, informing the Legislature that the shameful practices of bribery and intimidation in our elections are not confined to a single State or to one party. It may become so general, unless speedily checked, that the elections will no longer be an expression of free public sentiment, but simply the recorded result of the highest bribe for the voter.”

The degradation of democracy by those who would subvert it for political and economic power created an unmistakable call for the secret ballot by a local member of the Knights of Labor in the mid-1880s: “… There will be an end to the superintending of the votes of employees by overzealous underlings of manufacturing concerns who, not satisfied with controlling the bodies and labor of their workmen, would deprive them of their right as citizens, and make them vote according to their sweet will.”

The call to purify democracy by protecting the integrity of the ballot led to the enactment of the secret ballot law in Maine in 1891.

Today, the nation is awash with commentaries on preserving the purity and integrity of the right to vote by guarding against efforts to suppress voting, such as imposing voter identification requirements, eliminating early voting, gerrymandering based on race and purging voter rolls. Perhaps the concept of corporations as persons and money as free speech is the real gorilla in the room eroding the purity of democracy and should be the focus of our energy and concern.

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