Non-affiliated or no party preference voters comprise about 37 percent of all registered voters in Maine as of the last election. Democratic and Republican voters compose 32 and 28 percent of the electorate, respectively. Although Maine didn’t make it on the list of the top 5 states for independent voters, the Pine Tree State is home to 362,000 independent voters, according to the Maine Secretary of State.
A new organization, Independent Maine, founded by Sam Canders, is looking to provide the infrastructure and support for candidates and voters who are tired of partisan politics. With a ‘decentralized’ approach to politics, the group is the first of its kind for no party preference voters in Maine.
As such, Independent Maine isn’t like a typical political group, a 501(c)4. Instead, Canders defines it as, “[A] collection of independents working in collaboration. We are not a party, we are the un-party with no platform (to ignore) and no Bylaws (to only use when convenient). We are exchanging ideas and information (and not making money) and for the time being, that is not taxed.”
Canders spent 13 years in the military and just recently got involved in politics. After an unsuccessful bid for Maine’s House District 15 in 2012 as a Republican, he quickly realized the sizable disadvantage non-established candidates face when entering politics.
“It kind of morphed out of my political experience that I had, coming into this how foreign everything was as far as running for the legislature and dealing with the [Republican] party… But just, how difficult it can actually be, not only operating within a political party but also in general as far as trying to get involved in politics and actually run for political office. We were brainstorming and came up with this concept for Independent Maine.”
The focus for Independent Maine isn’t restricted to independent candidates, but also seeks empower voters with the knowledge of constitutional and political philosophy. Canders continued:
“So we’re trying to provide information, education, and a soap box for the unenrolled voter or [independent candidate] running their own campaign… [There will also be] some classes that we’ll be giving to anyone that’s interested, and we don’t care what their political affiliation is.”
Canders argued that a uniting factor between all parties and those with no partisan affiliation should be the state, local, and federal constitutions.
“No matter what your political affiliation is, that should be the commonality that everyone should be referencing,” he said.
In addition to building the independent community online, Canders also has plans to launch a citizens initiative to have party affiliation removed from the Maine ballot — the impetus for which lies in compulsive voting that has little to do with one’s feeling on the issues.
“Right now, the way it’s set up is people have a tendency to vote for the letter that’s after the name based on historical background… We want them to look at the people. That’s the beautiful thing about being an independent, you’re forced to look at the candidate and see where they stand on the issues.”
One national trend that Independent Maine hopes to capitalize on is growing discontent with both parties. As more voters leave the Democratic and Republican parties, Canders sees a golden opportunity to give independent Mainers a decentralized option to participate.
“A lot of people are frustrated with the party politics and they don’t want to be involved in that, but they do want to be involved in the issues,” he said.
Social media is also going to play a major role in Independent Maine’s coalition building strategy. Canders emphasized the importance of digital media in today’s political environment and added:
“[We’re hoping] to connect the grassroots activists with the potential candidate or possibly have that individual that maybe never thought of it, but have them connect with people that give them the little nudge they need to decide to run for political office. I mean, that’s what happened with me.”
Watch the video below for more on Independent Maine: