Sore losers in Lewiston want fewer young people to vote

The Republican Party — and conservatives in general — have a real problem with young people.

Specifically, they don’t want them to vote.

The same goes for minorities and people with low-income.

Lewiston mayoral candidates Steve Morgan and Ben Chin hold the door for voters at Longeley Elementary School on Election Day earlier this month. Amber Waterman for the BDN

Lewiston mayoral candidates Steve Morgan and Ben Chin hold the door for voters at Longley Elementary School on Election Day earlier this month. Amber Waterman for the BDN

In Maine and around the country, there is a concerted effort to change voting laws to make it harder to vote, with the goal of driving down turnout and excluding certain demographics.

The more people who vote, the worse it tends to be for the GOP.

Now, in Lewiston four sore losers are trying to move Election Day for municipal offices from November to June.

The goal is simple. They want to make it harder for students from Bates College to participate in local elections.

“If you look at the last election, I would say the Bates students voted a little dis-proportionally compared to the rest of the city,” Luke Jensen, one of the people circulating the petition, told the Lewiston Sun Journal. “So the Bates students probably swung the mayor’s race and at least one City Council race. It would be wrong to say that Bates students voting was not a motivating factor in this petition.”

Jensen, along with Patti Gagne, Brian Dale Wood and his wife, Jennifer, initiated the petition earlier this month. According to the Sun Journal, they have until March 16 to collect 2,736 signatures to put the change in the city charter on the ballot.

Jensen ran for mayor and Wood ran for the city council earlier this month. They lost.

Gagne ran for the state Senate in 2014. She lost.

Jensen earned only 204 votes, a solid rejection of his campaign by the people of the city.

Nonetheless, the Lewiston four blame their defeats on students from Bates, and now they’re trying to take them out of the electoral mix.

Unable to win their elections the traditional way — by working hard and convincing voters that they’re the best candidate (or at least better than their opponents) — these sore losers want to change the rules.

They want to make it significantly harder for people they don’t like to vote.

I spent four years working in Lewiston, and the community remains very special to me. There’s a core of dedicated people — politicians, community activists, business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs — who are working hard to make their community stronger.

There’s an energy in the city, which is trying to shake its reputation as a struggling former mill town and chart a new path of growth and opportunity.

But there’s also a strong reactive and regressive strain in certain parts of the city. And some politicians, who benefit from the old divisions and by attacking newcomers and new ideas, know how to tap into it.

On Dec. 8, Ben Chin will face incumbent Mayor Robert Macdonald in a runoff election.

Chin won a plurality of votes on Election Day, capturing 44 percent of the electorate. Macdonald came in second place. Jensen came in a distant fourth place in the five-person field.

That race epitomizes the conflict in Lewiston between a new, energetic and progressive approach and a reactionary incumbent who has held onto power by taking advantage of fear and pitting older residents against newcomers.

Chin has captured the imagination and inspired young people by presenting an image of what Lewiston could be.

To beat him, his opponents have resorted to ugly racist attacks. They’ve questioned his religion. And they’ve suggested he’s responsible for riots.

In the general election, he weathered those assaults and used them to demonstrate why he’d be a good mayor. He won me over early, and I’ve contributed to his campaign.

In November, roughly 34 percent of registered voters turned out.

The runoff will likely be decided by how many of those voters return to the polls on Dec. 8. The larger the turnout, the better for Chin.

Nationally, young people vote at a much lower rate than other parts of the population. A U.S. Census report looked at presidential elections from 1964 to 2012. “In every presidential election since 1964, young voters between the ages of 18 through 24 have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups,” it concluded.

Despite the low turnout among young people, the Lewiston four think too many are voting.

On Dec. 8, those young voices have a chance to be heard. If they don’t speak for themselves and turn out — and then stay involved and fight this petition — it might be their last chance.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at