BANGOR — There’s a reason why the “No on 1” campaign in Northern Maine doesn’t leave voice mail messages when recruiting volunteers, or even when making reminder calls to those who signed up for a shift. Our gay volunteers may not be out to the ones they live with, or our straight allies may be living with bigoted families. That’s just one of many challenges I have seen in the past few days, as our Bangor team responsible for the northeast corner of the state mine votes for marriage equality – in a region we surely expect to lose
. The fear tactics used by the opposition have more potency with swing voters up here, and the challenge of getting supporters to “vote early” is far greater. Northern Mainers are a stubborn lot, with many insisting – despite our pleas – on waiting until Election Day to vote at the polls. But we’re finding support in the most unexpected of places, and in a statewide race turning out every last vote for marriage equality is key.
If Maine defeats Question 1 on November 3rd, it will be the first time – after losing in 33 states – that marriage equality wins at the polls. “No on 1” has identified enough voters to prevail, but the problem will be voter turnout in an off-year. Our opposition candidly admitted this
in yesterday’s Portland Press Herald
, and the campaign has been pushing to have our supporters vote early to get a head start. In fact, our phone-bank scripts are not about persuading people to vote with us – but rather to convince them to vote early.
At the Portland phone-bank
I attended on Sunday before coming up north, I didn’t get a single voter who insisted on voting at the polls on Election Day. Getting supporters to vote early (either by mail, or in person at their local City Halls starting October 15th) serves two purposes. One is that it puts votes in the bank, allowing “No on 1” to save time and money by focusing on undecided voters - a point our supporters were willing to understand and assist us with. But secondly, with “Yes on 1” only getting nastier, early voting can prevent some of our supporters from being scared by last-minute smears.
And I knew we had our work cut out for us yesterday morning – while doing data entry from the Sunday phone-bank in Bangor. Volunteers had called folks in northern Maine who had previously been identified as “No on 1,” but a few – although by no means a majority – had already switched to “undecided,” or even “Yes on 1.” And a huge swath of voters – despite being asked by us to vote early – insisted on waiting for Election Day. It’s clear the opposition’s scare tactics on “marriage in schools” are working up here, and without a more intense effort to firm up our base in this region we could bleed support.
One real-life example came up at our Bangor phone-bank last night. A student volunteer from the University of Maine told us that her sister – who lives in a nearby town – had planned to vote “No on 1,” because (a) it mattered to her gay sibling and (b) she figured it would not affect her own life. After watching the “Yes on 1” ads that claim gay marriage will be “taught” in schools, her sister (who has a five-year-old) now plans to vote for it.
Of course, what public schools teach (regardless of whether or not Question 1 passes) is that not all families are the same
, and children should not feel ashamed for being different. Ironically, the sister in question is a single mom – and her five-year-old has been taunted at school for not having a father. The issue must be re-framed within the context of children being bullied in school, which “No on 1” has been working for several weeks to address in their ads
. By preying on fear, “Yes on 1” is convincing parents to vote against their children’s safety.
Bangor voters I called last night supported marriage equality – I believe I only got one undecided voter, and no one who was opposed – but most people insisted on voting in person at a polling booth. While Portland voters were happy to vote early by mail (after we explained that it helps the “No on 1” campaign bank votes), the best I could do for Bangor voters in most circumstances was to tell them about “in person” early voting at City Hall on October 15th. Having them circle the date on their calendars was effective.
But the highlight of last night’s phone-bank was when local volunteer Vicky Blanchette reached a voter in Levant
(a small town 10 miles west of Bangor.) The old man said he had not voted in 20 years, and was not planning on voting in this election either. Vicky explained that without marriage rights, she lives in constant fear about what would happen if her lesbian partner were to get in a tragic accident. She may not get hospital visitation rights, and if her partner dies the director of the funeral home could refuse to acknowledge their relationship.
The man listened to her, and then said: “I don’t want that to happen to my niece.” He’s going to vote in this election, and will be voting “no” on Question 1. This encapsulates why the work we do in northern Maine is so important. While we don’t expect to win the region at all, marriage equality supporters exist in the most unexpected of places – and we can deliver a statewide victory in Maine by mining the “No on 1” votes everywhere. With more volunteers out in the field, we can have a national impact on November 3rd.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul Hogarth is helping to run Travel for Change, which helps bring out-of-state volunteers to Maine with money and donated airline miles for the “No on 1” campaign. The site will soon launch “Drive for Equality” to organize carpools in East Coast states for day and weekend trips to Maine. Please stay tuned …