One of the more controversial decisions of this year’s legislative session is still being debated – and may ultimately be decided at the ballot box.
Lawmakers voted to eliminate election-day voter registration in the state. The Maine Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters and some other groups are angry, and are launching a “people’s veto” campaign to overturn the new law. For 39 years, Maine has allowed people to register to vote up to and including Election Day itself. In 2008, roughly 49,000 voters registered on Election Day. In 2010, according to the Secretary of State’s office, about 18,000 registered on Election Day. But that law has now changed.
A Republican bill -which passed by just one vote in the Senate-will have voter registration Thursday night before Election Day. It also rolls back the deadline for submitting absentee ballots. Secretary of State Charlie Summers says he asked for the bill as a way to reduce confusion and stress on the system the day or two before Election Day. He says this just rolls back the deadline two business days. But the coalition of groups organizing the people’s veto says eliminating same-day registration will hurt many elderly and low income people, who will need to make two trips to their town or city hall instead of one. They charge that Republicans changed the law to discourage those people from voting, Republicans say that isn’t true, but Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster says he believes the old law did encourage voter fraud, because election-day registration did not allow time to check on new registrants to make sure they actually lived in the community and had not voted elsewhere. Secretary of State Summers says he does not believe there has been a problem with fraud.
The people’s veto petition drive will need to collect nearly 60,000 valid signatures in just 90 days in order to block the new law from taking effect. If the drive is successful, the issue would be put to a statewide vote-either in November or June, depending upon when the petitions are submitted.