AUGUSTA, Maine — A March statewide presidential primary vote could be in the works for Maine in 2020, if the new Legislature elected in November can figure out a way to pay for it.

Lawmakers on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted 12-0 on Monday to approve a bill that would send voters to the polls instead of to a party caucus starting in 2020.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, gained broad bipartisan support, including from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, after this year’s caucuses for Democrats and Republicans caused many voters to complain about long waits and poor organization.

Alfond introduced his bill calling for a primary after Maine held its Republican caucuses March 5 and Democratic caucuses March 6. Only voters registered in Maine’s three recognized parties — Democrat, Republican and Green Independent — could take part in the presidential primary if Alfond’s bill passes and the next Legislature figures out how to pay for it.

A similar proposal to replace Maine’s presidential caucuses was introduced in 2012 by then-Senate President Kevin Raye, but it died for lack of funding.

“Neither the caucus or primary system is perfect,” Alfond told members of the committee last week. “I know there are some that say we should keep the caucuses and just try to do better next time. But just because a caucus can work well doesn’t mean it’s a system to engage all voters. The caucus system excludes many that otherwise would vote.”

The bill, LD 1673, calls for the secretary of state to set up a primary election on a Tuesday in March after consulting with Democratic and Republican party leaders on a date.

The measure also requires Maine to revert back to a caucus system if the next Legislature does not find a way to pay for a primary election every four years, which is expected to cost the state at least $1 million.

Proponents of a return to presidential primaries, which Maine has not used since 2000, say it would encourage more people to participate and be less chaotic because experienced poll workers would oversee the process. But municipal officials have expressed concern that switching to a primary would cost cities and towns money and add work for already strapped clerks and poll workers.

The bill will go to the Maine Senate for consideration.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.