Maine has taken a step backward on voters’ rights. Along with five other concerned Mainers, I filed paperwork with the secretary of state to overturn legislation that eliminated Election Day voter registration.
For 38 years, Maine has allowed voters to show up on Election Day, register and then cast their ballots. It’s a system that has worked remarkably well, helping Maine to become a national leader in voter participation.
The legislation changing that was developed and passed, based largely on myth. But I am convinced that Maine voters can discern fact from fiction and will support our efforts to restore Election Day voter registration. The League of Women Voters of Maine, which I represent, is a nonpartisan organization committed to protecting voting rights and the integrity of elections at the local, state and federal levels.
Around the country, we have seen a concerted effort to unnecessarily make it harder to vote. Supporters of that movement wrap their arguments in the American flag and make outrageous claims about election fraud. They’ve made the ridiculous claims in Maine already, trying to scare people into believing that people are trying to steal elections.
Despite the wild claims, there no evidence whatsoever that voting fraud is anything more than an exaggerated myth. In fact, in Maine there have been only two cases of voter fraud in the last 38 years associated with Election Day voting. In October 2007, Michael Slater, then the deputy director of Project Vote, wrote an important report about the mythology that has developed around voter fraud.
“Americans can be forgiven for believing that voter fraud is threatening the integrity of our elections,” Slater wrote. “They’ve the victims of an organized effort to persuade them just of that.” He also put the numbers to the lie: “At the federal level, only 24 people were convicted of illegal voting between 2002 and 2005, and all the evidence suggests that state-level rates were no higher. Put another way, Americans are twice as likely to be hit by lightning than to have their vote canceled out by fraudulently cast ballots.”
Voting is fundamental to our democracy and our government. And in Maine, we have a proud tradition of participating. Mainers vote, and until this year, state law has encouraged them to do so.
Every election year, candidates for high office face a gauntlet of voter-attended forums and events. They are put through the paces, and their ideas are tested. Voters pay attention, and come Election Day, they let their voices be heard. But there is a national movement that wants to erect unnecessary barriers to voting.
Based on Maine’s tradition of participation and high political awareness, we are convinced that voters will not allow this attack on their rights to stand. On the same day that Gov. Paul LePage signed the bill killing Election Day registration, we filed the paperwork to launch a people’s veto.
Same-day registration helps young voters, who move more often than other people. It helps voters with limited access to transportation and people who might have trouble getting around. Its elimination will hurt low-income Mainers, the disabled and the elderly by making it more difficult for them to vote.
The people who want to make it harder to vote claim Maine’s clerks are with them, but, in fact, most are not. Most of the people on the front lines don’t oppose Election Day registration and don’t consider it a burden. But recognizing that voting is a difficult business, we are not proposing to repeal other parts of this law, which make some technical amendments to the voting process. We’re focusing solely on Election Day registration.