Down to the wire: Democratic turnout efforts vs. GOP voter suppression

photo by Tracy Urquhart

photo by Tracy Urquhart

Intrepid canvassers in towns across Maine braved rough weather over the weekend as part of a final push to get out the vote for Democratic candidates up and down the ticket in Tuesday’s election. Party and candidate social media accounts were filled with photos of full phone banks and snow-covered canvassers.

For Democrats, getting out the vote is crucial to winning in a mid-term election, where critical voting blocs, including young people, unmarried women and people of color, are less likely to make it to the polls than in a presidential contest. This is especially true this year, when the gubernatorial contest is balanced on a razor’s edge.

There were no photos of door-knockers on the Facebook pages of Governor LePage and the Maine Republican Party over the weekend, in part because turnout operations are less important for Republicans and in part because much of the work is done outside the party, by religious organizations and groups like the NRA.

Maine’s Christian Civic League, for instance, boasts of its “pews to the polls” operation targeting evangelical churchgoers. In the June primary, they claim to have boosted overall turnout by 15% (if that’s anywhere close to true, it could help to explain Bruce Poliquin’s win in the second-district Republican primary over pro-choice opponent Kevin Raye.)

Cynical, misleading calls

Maine Republicans are also engaging in other, less wholesome tactics to affect who turns out to vote. Over the weekend, Democratic women across Maine began received automated calls from the Women’s Leadership Fund, a PAC run by Republican State Representative Deb Sanderson. The calls attacked Congressman Mike Michaud on the issue of abortion.

You might think, since Sanderson is against abortion rights and Michaud is pro-choice (and has been endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood), that the calls would be attacking him for supporting access to abortion, but they aren’t. Instead, the recording claims that “women can’t trust Michaud with their health and reproductive rights” and even references Planned Parenthood to back up its claims.

There’s absolutely no explanation for this kind of hypocritical and manipulative effort except as a cynical attempt to confuse Democrats and keep them from voting. While academic studies on voter turnout have found that automated calls do nothing to boost voter participation, these kinds of negative and false attacks can be effective at muddying the waters, decreasing turnout and turning people off to the entire political process.

Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea andSenate minority leader Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport - Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea and Senate minority leader Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport – Troy R. Bennett | BDN

“Voters should know the true motives of the Women’s Leadership Fund — reelect Paul LePage using any misleading, dirty trick necessary so that he can continue to turn back the clock on issues important to the lives of Maine women and families,” said Nicole Clegg, chair of the Maine Planned Parenthood Action Fund PAC, in a statement responding to the calls. “Governor LePage is the only candidate women cannot trust with their health and reproductive rights. For four years, we have seen firsthand that Governor LePage doesn’t trust women to make their own health care decisions and women can’t afford to send him back to the Blaine House.”

Sanderson is one of LePage’s biggest boosters in the House. In March, she backed his vetoes of federal funding to expand health care coverage for 70,000 low-income Mainers, saying that denying them health care might “incentivize some folks” to work harder.

With less than 24 hours left until the polls open, we’ll soon know who makes it out to vote and which side’s tactics have been more effective.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.