Critics of the Legislature’s recent decision to end Election Day voter registration in Maine said Thursday a broad coalition is building to quickly collect the 57,000-plus signatures needed to put the issue in front of voters this November.
“We are organized, we are energized and we will be successful,” said Ben Dudley, executive director of Engage Maine, a coalition of progressive groups.
After heated debate that elevated partisan tensions in Augusta, the Legislature voted largely along party lines earlier this month to repeal Maine’s 38-year-old law allowing voters to register at the polls on Election Day.
Supporters argue the change is needed to reduce municipal clerks’ workload and to deter voter fraud. But critics say fraud is largely nonexistent in Maine and instead accuse Republicans of repealing the law on the assumption that it helps Democrats.
On Thursday, representatives from about a dozen organizations joined several of the individuals who filed paperwork to wage a people’s veto campaign to overturn the bill, LD 1376, that they say will disenfranchise thousands of Maine voters.
“For the life of me, I can’t understand why we would turn the clock back now,” said Robert Talbot, a Bangor resident who signed the petition filed earlier this week with the Secretary of State’s Office.
But supporters of the change said the new law doesn’t rob anyone of their voting rights. It merely gives clerks additional time to verify new registrants.
“Maine is now set to join 42 other states which understand that not being able to register to vote on Election Day is a very small inconvenience to maintain the integrity of every vote cast,” House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said in a statement. “This new law doesn’t disenfranchise anyone, because all eligible residents will still have 247 days out of the year to register.”
Opponents of the new law will have to work quickly if they want to get the issue on the November ballot.
They will need to gather 57,277 signatures from confirmed, registered voters within 90 days of the Legislature’s adjournment, which won’t happen until June 28 at the earliest. But the campaign would need to collect those signatures by Aug. 8 to qualify for this fall’s election.