For 38 years, Maine residents have been able to go to their polling place on Election Day, fill out a registration card and then vote. With the passage of a bill during the 125th Legislature’s first session, that option was eliminated and replaced with a requirement that voters register at least two business days before an election.
Shortly after the bill’s passage, a broad coalition of progressive groups gathered enough signatures to initiate a people’s veto. Now Maine voters get to decide whether to affirm the changes or keep in place the decades-long practice of allowing registration and voting on the same day.
Question 1 on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot reads: “Do you want to reject the section of Chapter 399 of the Public Laws of 2011 that requires new voters to register to vote at least two business days prior to an election?”
Both sides insist the debate is nonpolitical but during debate over LD 1376 Republicans overwhelming supported eliminating Election Day voter registration while Democrats fought to keep it. When the bill passed in the House and Senate, the voting margins were narrow and largely along party lines.
“Anytime you do anything dealing with registration or voting requirements or conditions, it’s always partisan, even if no one wants to say it,” said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine. “Parties exist to win elections and will consider any chance to improve those odds.”
So who benefits more from the outcome of Question 1?
“Eliminating same-day voter registration helps Republicans; that’s just the reality,” Brewer said.