The hardest thing about Question 1 is knowing what it means to say “yes” or “no.”
The question could be confusing because it asks voters who want to reject a new provision of the public law that bans Election Day registration to say “yes.”
In other words, if you want to keep the law that has allowed people who have recently moved or have been too busy to visit a town office during business hours to register at the polls and vote on Election Day, say “yes.”
If you want to maintain a system that has worked for nearly 40 years, one that has made Maine a national leader in voter participation, say “yes.”
If you want to make sure that the approximately 70,000 votes cast in the last two elections by Democrats, Republicans and independents who registered on Election Day would still count if they were cast next year, say “yes.”
But if you are interested in chasing phantoms and have a gut feeling that there must be fraud at the polls, by all means, vote “no.”
If you want to join a national effort to suppress voter turnout by making it too hard for some students, elderly and working people to cast a ballot, vote “no.”
And if you want to change the law because you think low turnout would give your party an advantage next election, your vote would be “no.”
Once you have sorted out what a “yes” or “no” vote means on Question 1, there is not much of a contest here.
Republican lawmakers pushed this through last legislative session and the governor signed it. It is supposed to make Maine less vulnerable to voter fraud, but supporters have produced nothing more than suspicions of fraud nor have they suggested how preventing people from registering fewer than two days before an election would stop it – if it exists at all.
Not able to prove that voter fraud has occurred, they present “evidence” that it could happen in Maine. They release alarming-sounding statistics, like the one that purports to show that there were more registered voters than eligible voters in some recent elections.
If they had shown that there had been more votes cast than eligible voters, that would be evidence of a problem.
But because people aren’t automatically taken off the rolls when they move out of state or die, it’s no surprise that the number of registered voters is higher.
Voters who move from one town to another could be registered in two places, but as long as they only vote once, where is the fraud?
No evidence has been presented that explains why moving the deadline for voter registration would make Maine less vulnerable to fraud – if there were any fraud. In fact, there is good reason to believe that a last-minute registration is more difficult to game.
An Election Day registrant has to show up in person and prove identity and residence. A few months earlier, a new voter can register by mail or through a third party. Why do they say Election Day registration is more risky?
The way to address this issue would be to conduct a thorough study of Maine’s election laws and practices and determine if the state is really falling victim to voter fraud.
The next step would be determining whether protecting against that vulnerability is worth the cost of legitimate votes that would not be cast if the rules are changed. If Election Day registration is wiped out, some people will not get a chance to vote.
That shouldn’t even be discussed unless there is a very good reason, and the Election Day registration foes have not showed us one yet.
Instead of a thoughtful process, backers of this law have just invented a solution to a problem that they can’t say really exists.
Voters, whether they register on Election Day or have been on the rolls for years, should reject this haphazard legislation and vote “yes” to sustain the people’s veto. If you want to maintain a system that has worked for nearly 40 years, one that has made Maine a national leader in voter participation, say “yes.”