A growing trend by states to restrict voters’ rights has brought a backlash in Maine, where an upcoming “people’s veto” referendum seeks to restore same-day voter registration. On Nov. 8, Maine voters will decide a very straightforward proposal: whether to repeal a new state law that requires voters to register at least two days before an election. Repeal would effectively restore same-day registration, a policy that’s been in effect in Maine for nearly four decades.
The law allowing people in Maine to register at the polls up to and including Election Day is strongly favored by Democrats, who say it encourages voter participation. But it’s opposed by Republicans who contend that same-day registration opens the door to fraud and abuse. Randy Spencer, a Maine guide who divides his time between rural Grand Lake Stream and Holden, near Bangor, says same-day voting saved him on more than one occasion.
When he moved his primary residence to Holden in 2006, “I promptly registered to vote,” Spencer said. But when Election Day rolled around, his name didn’t appear on the registered voters list, so he was allowed to re-register in the town office.
In the next November election, the same thing happened.
“I didn’t blame anyone, as mistakes like this can surely happen,” Spencer said. “On the other hand, I’d feel very differently if a mere clerical error like this had cost me my right to vote — twice.”
While the new law includes a provision that could allow people like Spencer to vote by giving them a ballot and verifying their legal status within three days of the election, supporters of same-day registration say it also helps people who work multiple jobs and lack time to register. Opponents, however, are rankled by students who enter colleges as nonresidents but register to vote in Maine at the last minute before elections.
In Maine and other states, Republican opponents of same-day registrations have said enough.
Among the seven other states that have allowed same-day registration, bills were introduced in two this year — Montana and New Hampshire — to repeal that provision. In New Hampshire, the bill failed to pass in the House. Montana’s bill was vetoed by the governor, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
At least 13 states introduced GOP-backed bills this year to end Election Day voter registration, limit voter registration efforts or reduce other registration opportunities. In addition, nine states considered bills to reduce their early voting periods, and among them, bills in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia have been enacted, according to the nonpartisan public policy organization Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.