A bill that would eliminate same-day voter registration has some heavy-hitters behind it. Secretary of State Charles Summers says he crafted the bill as a way to lighten the workload for clerks on Election Day, and he’s gotten leaders of the Republican majority in both houses to be sponsors.
But opponents says the bill’s passage will get rid of a four-decade old tradition, and throw up a barrier to voting for people who can’t register ahead of time. A coalition representing a diverse group including single mothers, seniors and the disabled is using the Memorial Day weekend to urge House Republicans to break with their party before an expected vote Tuesday.
Young people say they will be disproportionately hurt if they can’t register the day of. “We’re moving around a lot, we’re changing addresses,” said Carlin Whitehouse. Whitehouse is a member of the League of Young Voters, which has joined forces with groups such as AARP, the NAACP, Equality Maine the Maine Women’s Lobby and homeless advocates in opposing the bill. Whitehouse said he’s also been a poll worker, and describes helping many voters register Election Day.
“I don’t want to have to turn people away when they come to cast a vote,” Whitehouse said. “I don’t want to say, ‘Sorry the window has already passed. You’re going you have to go home and wait another two years, another four years, another few months for the next election. We all as Mainers should be welcoming people, ushering them into the process.”
Supporters of same-day voter registration credit the practice with raising Maine’s voter participation rate to the third highest in the country, behind Minnesota and Wisconsin. But Summers says that too many people wait until the last minute to register. And this, he says, stretches municipal staffs too thin, and opens them up to making mistakes.
“In 2010, four times as did the previous 43 days,” Summers said. “And that spells a lot of pressure on these small towns and cities. They’re can’t expands their staffs.”
Summers said that about 46,000 people registered in the two days before the 2008 election. The workload for clerks, he says, is exacerbated by the fact that voters are also waiting to cast absentee ballots in the last two days before an election– 15 percent in 2008.