AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine could be the latest state to ditch its presidential caucus for a primary system, a move that would leave just a handful of states with the more grassroots caucus system heading into the 2020 election.
As the 2020 presidential primary season nears, Maine is among an increasingly small handful of states that still have caucuses, including Iowa, Nevada and Wyoming. That's down from 15 states in 2008, as states including Kansas, Idaho and Colorado have dropped traditional caucuses in recent years for state-run or party-run primaries.
Nebraska Democrats voted last fall to revert from the caucus system to the primary system. Nebraska's Republicans choose their candidates through primaries.
More states have made the change to primaries after the national Democratic Party adopted a preference for state-run primaries last August, according to political scientist Josh Putnam, a lecturer in public and international affairs at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington who tracks elections and campaigns for his blog, Frontloading HQ.
He said Maine looks to be the seventh state to switch from a caucus in 2016 to a state-run primary. The bill making the switch sailed through Maine's House and Senate, but funding seems to be a sticking point holding back passage for now.
Caucuses feature often lengthy group discussions at meetings where party members select candidates to support, while voters in statewide presidential primaries instead cast ballots for candidates.
Backers of primaries in Maine are pointing to reports of headaches at Maine's 2016 presidential caucus meetings. Republicans faced long drives to regional caucus locations. Democrats faced long lines at overcrowded caucuses.
Local voting groups argue that long lines discourage voters and that caucuses simply can't engage as many voters as primaries.
About 65,000 Mainers participated in the 2016 presidential caucuses, while over 200,000 voted in the 2018 statewide gubernatorial primary.
"Even when individual caucus locations seem crowded on caucus day, the number of Mainers who participate is far smaller than the number who vote in primaries," said Bob Howe, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters of Maine.
"Primaries offer a much broader gauge of public support, and draw a more representative electorate, than party caucuses."