AUGUSTA – The Maine House and Senate are poised to limit the most fundamental democratic process — voting.

L.D. 1376, “An Act To Preserve the Integrity of the Voter Registration and Election Process,” will eliminate Maine’s nearly 40-year tradition of Election Day registration. It is a very bad deal for Maine voters.

Election Day registration means that voters can register and vote on the same day. It works well.

Eliminating Election Day registration will disenfranchise the thousands of Maine citizens who rely on it. And to what end? There have been only two cases of voter fraud prosecuted in Maine in 30 years. In addition to Maine’s tradition of election integrity, we have a tradition of vibrant civic engagement. In fact, Maine has one of the highest rates of voter participation in the country.

This move will turn back the clock on our democracy. It will turn back the clock on voting rights.

Imagine a member of the military who completes her service shortly before an election and returns home to Maine, not able to vote because she was unable to get to the registrar’s office in town before the deadline. Imagine a busy single mom, recently relocated, unable to find care for her children so she can get to the town office to register.

Their civic responsibility — their constitutionally protected right to vote — is deferred. These are the real-life consequences of making it harder to register and vote.

The impact will be felt most by those who move frequently and by those who live on the economic margins. One of the three largest predictors of who turns out to vote is how often they move.

For example, according to Project Vote, only 69 percent of voters who were at their current address for less than a year voted in 2008. For this population, Election Day registration really helps.

In 2008, Election Day registration enabled nearly 50,000 people to register and vote. In 2010, more than 18,000 registered on Election Day.

In fact, same-day registration is the single most important measure states can use to improve voter participation.

Because voting is fundamental to full civic participation, the Maine Women’s Lobby is deeply concerned about L.D. 1376.

A woman’s right to vote is still less than 100 years old in this country — so encouraging women to register and to vote is of paramount importance to our mission of involving women in policymaking and the civic process.

This bill would establish unnecessary and inappropriate barriers in front of prospective voters — especially single moms and young women.

Why make it harder for these folks to register and vote now? What’s the purpose?

There’s no advantage to the state. Rather, changing our system of elections will be costly. Maine people know that they can register up to and including Election Day. Changing the deadline will require massive voter education, which is expensive.

Proponents of this legislation suggest that the bill will simplify voting processes for the town clerks who administer elections.

But in the public hearing for this bill, clerks testified that Election Day registration was not onerous and that they are comfortable supporting it.

This law would set a horrible precedent. The expansion of voting rights to include all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity or sex, and the breaking down of barriers to voter participation has been one of the great successes in the evolution of American democracy. This bill will turn back the clock and erect unnecessary barriers to voter participation.

Election Day registration was enacted in 1973 with Republican sponsorship and unanimous support. It has contributed greatly to Maine’s tradition of vigorous civic participation.

We’ve all heard it said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Maine’s voting system works, and it works well.

Maine lawmakers should be working on getting our economy moving again, not muddying up Maine’s system of elections.