PORTLAND – Voters overwhelmingly supported the restoration of same-day voter registration Tuesday, overturning a Republican-backed law passed earlier this year.
Question 1 was leading by 61-39 percent, according to unofficial returns. With 68 percent of precincts reporting, the measure was ahead in all 16 counties.
Supporters of the people’s veto gathered at Bayside Bowl in Portland to watch the results as others bowled frames in the background. Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said the vote shows that Republicans who were elected to work on employment and the economy haven’t done the job.
“It demonstrates clearly (that voters) are frustrated with Republican leadership in Augusta,” Grant said. “That was a pretty big indictment of their approach.”
Many at the gathering remembered being there on election night a year ago when Democrat Libby Mitchell finished a distant third in the race for governor. They cheered Tuesday night when U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, came up on the big-screen TVs to talk about Question 1 on the “Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC.
Pingree was asked about a Maine GOP ad that noted Equality Maine’s involvement in the pro-Question 1 campaign and raised the issue of gay marriage.
“The Republicans overplayed their hand once again,” Pingree said, saying she found the ad “disgusting” and charging that Republicans had “no good argument” for banning same-day voter registration in Maine.
Pingree’s husband, Donald Sussman, was a major contributor to the Yes on 1 campaign and was thanked publicly at the gathering during celebratory comments Tuesday night. Later in the evening, Pingree and Sussman made the rounds at the bowling alley.
Speaking on behalf of opponents, Lance Dutson, executive director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, said the campaign was a chance to more closely examine how Maine runs its elections.
“We’re disappointed the referendum passed, but Election Day registration is a convenience people enjoyed,” he said.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January, Dutson said lawmakers will take up a bill to require voters to produce photo identification, a move he believes will make Maine’s elections more secure.
While under consideration in the Legislature, and throughout the campaign, the issue largely pitted Democrats against Republicans. The Maine Republican Party led the charge to eliminate same-day voter registration, and the Maine Democratic Party fought to restore it.
The issue made it to Tuesday’s ballot after an effort by the League of Women Voters of Maine and other groups to gather the signatures necessary to put the new state law — which would have banned same-day voter registration — to a citizen vote.
The Republican-led Legislature had passed the bill in June to require voters to register at least two business days before an election, a change to a state law that had been in effect for 38 years.
Supporters of the law said clerks in some cities and towns did not have enough time to properly process registrations, especially those that came in on Election Day. They are concerned about the potential for fraud in Maine elections.
Opponents of the law said there have been no demonstrated problems with allowing people to register and vote on the same day. They said the practice has helped Maine achieve one of the highest voter turnouts in the country.
Grant, the Democratic Party chairman, said voters won’t forget this campaign heading into legislative races set for a year from now.
“This wasn’t the last vote of 2011, it’s the first vote of 2012,” he said.
MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind contributed to this report.
MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]