AUGUSTA – After extensive debate, the Maine Senate voted 18-17 Wednesday to give preliminary approval to a bill that would eliminate same-day voter registration.

The measure, L.D. 1376, sponsored by House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, also would prohibit absentee voting in the two business days before elections.

Maine is one of eight states that allow same-day registration, and it consistently ranks near the top nationally for voter turnout.

Supporters say L.D. 1376 is aimed at easing the Election Day burden on municipal workers and helping to prevent voter fraud. Opponents say it would disenfranchise voters.

On Monday, House gave initial approval to the measure, which faces further votes.

“If it is something that’s so important, our right to vote, then why would it be a problem to plan ahead to register to vote?” said Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor, who voted in support of the bill.

Sen. Dick Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth, said that the right to vote is a core principal of democracy, and that Maine’s 38-year-old same-day registration policy ensures citizens “the greatest opportunity to exercise that right.”

“If there are issues of voter fraud, we should identify and prosecute the fraud, not take away the rights of legal voters who want to exercise their legal right to participate in the democratic process,” Woodbury said.

During the public hearing on the bill in May, a representative of the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association supported the ban on absentee voting in the two business days before elections, but said the group supported maintaining same-day registration.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who voted in support of the bill, said he did so because of reports from colleagues that clerks in small towns were overwhelmed by same-day registration.

Katz was unable to name any of the small towns, and acknowledged that Augusta’s city clerk reported not having any trouble with same-day registration.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a former secretary of state, said lawmakers who campaign at polling places during the next election would likely run into constituents who are “miffed, shocked and outraged” at the change.

But Assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, offered a different take. “The sky will not fall,” she said. 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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