It will take a state constitutional amendment to allow Mainers who vote early to place their ballots directly into a ballot box or voting machine rather than placing an absentee ballot into an envelope that’s sealed until Election Day. Advocates for that change gathered Wednesday at the State House to urge passage of LD 156, a bill that would trigger a statewide referendum to change language in the Maine Constitution to allow early voting. The bill would require two-thirds majority votes in both chambers of the Legislature. Early voting, which takes place in 32 other states, differs from in-person absentee ballot voting, which Maine now allows without proof of hardship by the end of a municipality’s business day on the Thursday before Election Day.
Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, sponsor of LD 156, said he expects the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which held a hearing on the bill Wednesday, to make a recommendation on it within the next few weeks. If LD 156 wins legislative approval, Shaw expects the question to go to Maine voters this November.
Shaw’s bill seeks to amend the state constitution, which calls for senators and representatives to be elected “on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November biennially forever,” and for the governor to be elected “on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November every four years.” LD 156 would add a sentence allowing the Legislature to authorize a process that would allow qualified voters to cast ballots “during a period immediately preceding an election.”
The proposal does not specify how soon before Election Day early voting could start. Shaw said details related to early voting rules would be addressed during a future legislative session — if voters approve a constitutional amendment allowing legislators to work on an early voting system for Maine.