Sen. Angus King during the virtual Midcoast Senior College class meeting on Friday, Nov. 5. Screenshot courtesy of Midcoast Senior College

A Brunswick-based senior college hosted Sen. Angus King on Friday for a virtual discussion on voting rights and the state of democracy.

The class presentation with the independent senator comes shortly after a bill introduced in part by King — the Freedom to Vote Act — was blocked from proceeding to debate in a partisan senate vote. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, another piece of voting rights legislation King co-sponsored, was also blocked in the senate on Wednesday.

According to the an Oct. 21 report by the Portland Press Herald, the Freedom to Vote Act would have set national standards for mail-in and early voting, made Election Day a national holiday, extended financial reporting requirements for certain organizations, created a standard for states that require identification to vote, restored voting rights to felons on their release, required that voting machines have papers trails and protected local election officials from removal for partisan issues.

“Our democratic system is an anomaly in world history,” King told the class, paraphrasing a speech he delivered earlier in October in support of the Freedom to Vote Act. “The norm in world history is dictators, pharaohs, kings, czars and now they call them presidents for life, but the point is, authoritarianism in some form or another is the normal state of events. Democracy, where the people are actually in charge, is unusual.”

“And the second point along those lines is it’s fragile. The tendency towards authoritarianism is always there,” King continued. “The point I want to make is that what we have isn’t guaranteed.”

King worries an example of this tendency, he said, includes former President Donald Trump’s failure to concede, as well as the unsupported claims of voter fraud that followed.

Polls show that roughly one-third of the U.S. and two-thirds of Republicans believe the 2020 election was illegitimate, according to King. Now that states are passing laws using those allegations of fraud as a pre-text, King said, the country could head in a direction where two-thirds of American people — both Democrats and Republicans — don’t trust elections.

“At that point, where are we? Because elections are the fundamental way we express our views and affect the course of public policy,” King said. “If you’ve got two-thirds of the people that don’t trust the electoral system, we’ve got a shell of democracy.”

Throughout the roughly one hour presentation, King also touched on the topics of gerrymandering, the filibuster, the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and climate change.

According to the teacher, Berwick resident Niles Schore, the class was mostly guided by the 2018 book “The Soul of America” by Jon Meacham. Schore has taught nine total classes through Midcoast Senior College. Midcoast Senior College is a nonprofit that offers courses and learning opportunities to individuals aged 50 and older.

“(The premise is) we’ve been through bad times before, the structure of our government and the soul of our people have always helped us survive, and this time will be no different,” said Schore. “Certainly, the background from day one has been where we are today. But it really has always been let’s compare where we are today, with where we have been.”

The two most prominent issues the class discussed, Shore said, include voting rights and climate change.

“This opportunity has made a huge difference for me,” said Harpswell resident and student Dian Petty, who has taken about four past courses through Midcoast Senior College. “I have learned so much that I’m astonished that I wished that I had learned this sooner in my life but earlier I was so focused on other things.”

Hellen Hawes, another student and Harpswell resident, said that the course has given her hope about global problems during a worrisome time in history.

The class ran for eight weeks and met once a week. For more information, visit midcoastseniorcollege.org.


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