Credit: George Danby

I haven’t always supported open primaries, but times have changed.

Over the past decade, when campaigning for election to the Maine Senate, I came across an increasing number of voters who felt that their voices were not being heard.

Today, nearly four in 10 Maine voters have unenrolled from the political parties or were never enrolled to begin with. Maine’s closed primary law prohibits these voters from participating in the June elections that serve to narrow down the field of candidates in some elections, and that effectively decide the outcome of elections in districts with strong partisan leanings.

It is understandable that these voters, as well as many Democrats and Republicans, would feel like the political system is broken and express their frustration over laws that deny unincarcerated, of-age citizens access to the ballot box.

I strongly support LD 211, An Act to Open Maine’s Primaries and Permit Unenrolled Voters to Cast Ballots in Primary Elections, and urge lawmakers to vote in favor of this important legislation.

I am a proud, lifelong Republican. It’s my conservative values and unwavering commitment to freedom that inform my support for this change.

Every Maine voter should be free to participate in every taxpayer-funded, government-administered election. Equally important, every Maine voter should be free from forced enrollment in a political party in order to exercise their right to vote.

According to research conducted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 37 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are unenrolled voters. We dishonor their service and sacrifice when we write laws that limit their participation in elections.

Opening Maine’s primaries to unenrolled voters would give greater legitimacy to the political parties as institutions and could help to aid their cause. Those of us within the parties would have the opportunity to welcome unenrolled voters into the process earlier on, educate them about our platform and priorities, and engage them in a widening coalition to win elections and govern more collaboratively. Over time, some of these voters might even come to register with the party. Whether they do or not, those who participate in primaries will be more likely to support the nominees who they helped to select. That’s good both for voters and parties.

Hancock County reflects the political diversity that is Maine and our tradition of common sense and putting partisanship aside to do the right thing. Of the last three individuals to represent my Senate district, one was a Democrat, one was a Republican and one was an independent. The Democrat, Dennis Damon, the independent, Jill Goldthwait, and me, the Republican, have come together to support opening Maine’s primaries.

We’re certainly not alone. In fact, polling shows that 75 percent to 80 percent of Maine voters support opening Maine’s primaries to unenrolled voters, including large majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents. Lawmakers in Augusta would be wise to listen to their constituents and support this important effort. It is good policy, and good politics.

Brian Langley of Ellsworth is a former state senator.