Mainers have a proud tradition of being among the most active and involved voters in the country. Election after election, we go to the polls in large numbers, which results in voter turnout rates that rank among the highest in our nation. In the 2008 general election, Maine ranked second in the nation for voter turnout. More than 70-percent of the state’s voting age population exercised one of their most fundamental and significant rights as American citizens –the right to vote.
From state referenda to gubernatorial and presidential elections, Mainers have shown that civic involvement is a right they value and a responsibility they take seriously.
Yet, there are still many people who believe that what goes on in Congress or the State House, or even in town and city halls is beyond their control .But that is not the case. In a democracy, the people are the government and those who govern answer to the people.
If you ever think that your vote does not count, just remember a few examples of one vote making all the difference: One vote elected Thomas Jefferson president in 1800 when his election was decided in the House of Representatives; when the electoral college votes were counted in 1877, one vote elected Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency; and one vote in each instance admitted Texas, California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington to be part of the United States.
It seems incredible to us today that American women were not allowed to vote until 1923.The Voting Rights Act, which strengthened voting rights for all Americans regardless ofrace or color, was adopted in 1965.And the 26thAmendment, which gave 18-year olds the right to vote, was passed in 1971.
In 2006, I cosponsored legislation that was signed into law that reauthorized important provisions of the historic Voting Rights Act to protect the voting rights of all Americans. Specifically, The Voting Rights Reauthorization Act prohibits the enactment of any election law that would deny or abridge voting rights based on race, color, or membership in a minority language. It also allows private citizens and the government to challenge discriminatory voting practices and procedures.
Year after year, hundreds of Mainers also participate in the political process by running for office in Federal, State, or Local government.
I was fortunate to have had very strong role models who taught me the importance of public service at a very young age. My family has a strong tradition of public service. My parents were both involved in state and local politics and taught me the value of civic participation.
Former Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith was also an inspiration to me. I had the good fortune to meet Senator Smith at that time of life when young people are figuring out who they are and what they want to become. We talked for nearly two hours in her office in Washington, D.C., discussing many important issues, and she took the time to answer many, many questions. In addition to her inspiring words, she made me realize that women could do anything they desire to do.
This is the kind of inspiration that I also hope to pass on to young Mainers across the state—young women and men alike. That is why one of my favorite jobs as a U.S. Senator is to visit schools and talk to students about my experiences. Recently, I visited schools in Owls Head, Blue Hill and Kennebunkport. I also delight in hosting hundreds of Maine students who visit the U.S. Capitol each year as part of the United States Senate Youth Program, the National Young Leaders Conference, or on class trips.
Our political system will thrive only if each generation takes up the cause of participatory government. Public service is one of the best means by which a citizen can demonstrate his or her commitment to the greater public good. Voting is one of our most valuable tools as American citizens to make our voices heard. As we head to the polls again on November 2nd, we should be proud of the great tradition of civic involvement that Mainers demonstrate with every election, both as candidates for public office and active and informed voters.