AUGUSTA – One of the ongoing arguments between supporters and detractors of Election Day registration is whether the practice has led to Maine’s high voter turnout.

Lance Dutson, chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which is campaigning against the fall referendum, provided a chart showing Maine’s turnout has been consistent both before and after the 1973 law originally passed.

“There was no perceptible change in voter turnout after the law was passed,” he said.

The chart shows Maine voter turnout hovering around 60 percent over the last 50 years.

But David Farmer, spokesman for the Yes on 1/Protect Maine Votes campaign, said the chart is misleading and that Maine’s turnout has increased because of Election Day registration.

“The states that perform best all have same-day registration,” he said. “The reason (Maine’s rate) has stayed consistent is because you had the 26th Amendment, which added millions of new voters nationally to the rolls when they expanded the franchise to 18-year-olds.”

After the change, other states without Election Day registration saw a “precipitous decline,” Farmer said.

“Maine, because of same-day registration and aggressive efforts to increase participation, has held off a trend that has zapped participation in other states,” he said.

In a 2010 review of average percentage of voter registration and participation rates for all federal elections from 1978 to 2008, Maine ranked third.

Maine’s average voter registration rate was 83 percent and average voter participation rate was 65.1 percent, according to the study by the Daily Beast.

Last on the list was Nevada, which had an average voter registration rate of 58.1 and an average voter participation rate of 49.3.

According to the Associated Press, the 2008 presidential election, which turned out 61.6 percent of the entire country’s eligible voters, was the highest turnout rate since 1968. The 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971.

DROPOUT RATES

During a Rockland forum on education, Gov. Paul LePage asserted that many students headed off to college are not prepared to leave home.

“(College) is a shell shock. I went to college a long time ago. We started by September and by Christmas, the freshman class was down to half,” he said, according to an account in the Bangor Daily News. “We don’t do a good job preparing them to leave home.”

LePage graduated from then-Husson College in 1971. The school was not able to provide semester-by-semester enrollment numbers for the time period that the governor attended.

A Husson spokeswoman said in the early 1960s, the school transitioned from a for-profit business institution to a nonprofit school and also moved locations, making the information hard to come by now.

But according to the information she was able to provide, in 1968 the school enrollment was 1,374. The following year, it was 1,027. It’s possible — though unlikely given the number of students that graduated annually — that half of the freshman class dropped out mid-semester and the school made up the difference with increased enrollment in the next year’s freshman class.

Current statistics from the University of Maine tell a different story than the picture painted by LePage.

In fall 2010, there were 9,138 students enrolled in undergraduate classes, according to a university spokesman. The following spring, 8,718 students were enrolled in classes.

Joe Carr, university spokesman, also clarified that the enrollment numbers reflect some students taking a break, not necessarily “dropping out.”

NEW USE FOR THE HOSPITAL?

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, seemed to let the cat out of the bag last week when he asked Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew if the state was looking to buy MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta after the hospital moves to a new home.

“We should purchase the hospital for $1,” he said during a meeting to discuss budget cuts. “It would be a perfect location for DHHS.”

Mayhew said the Arsenal Street hospital “is absolutely one of the facilities” DHHS is looking at as they try to find a place in Augusta big enough to house all area DHHS workers.

The discussion took place because Mayhew informed the Streamlining Commission that DHHS will be vacating a leased facility at 442 Civic Center Drive in Augusta because “we were unable to renegotiate that lease to our satisfaction.”

That means about 200 workers will be relocated to other DHHS offices near Augusta and about 100 will need to be moved to a new location, she said.

The department anticipates saving more than $488,000 in the move.

SPEAKING OF SAVING MONEY …

Maine People Before Politics, a group funded by money left over from the LePage transition, will be in Portland on Tuesday to ask citizens at the post office on Forest Avenue what they’d like to see cut from the state budget.

The “Cut Spending Sidewalk Tour” will go from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The idea is to help the Streamlining Commission charged with recommending cuts to the state budget.

“The task force seems to be struggling to find solutions in Augusta, so we’re taking the issue to the people of Maine — they won’t be shy with proposing solutions,” said Jason Savage, executive director of Maine People Before Politics.

State House Bureau writers Rebekah Metzler and Susan Cover contributed to this column.