July 17, 2011

Repeal effort on new voting law under way

Backers need 57,000 signatures to put Election Day voting registration back on the ballot.

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

(Continued from page 1)

"We're not able to look at those voter registration cards and really scrutinize them, because they jump in," she said.

Pinkham said that when workers tell potential voters they must present proper documentation -- such as a piece of mail -- to register, the lawyers interrupt and say it isn't necessary.

"I feel that you kind of lose the integrity of an election that way, because why are there laws?" she said.

Matt Dunlap, a former Democratic lawmaker and secretary of state, said it is true that people can register without proper documentation, but their ballots should be challenged.

He said a challenged ballot is assigned a secret number so, in case of a recount, it can be pulled out and verified. If it isn't verified, the vote doesn't count.

"It's very common, when people show up at five minutes of 8 and they decide they want to register and vote and they don't have their utility bill, they don't have a photo ID, so you vote a challenge ballot," Dunlap said.

Pinkham said she does challenge some ballots, but "it never gets anywhere."

"We have such quick deadlines and you have to get all this stuff in before an election, and it would be helpful if there was a cut-off," she said.

The new law would not prevent college students -- or any other new registrants -- from voting, but it would give clerks more time to scrutinize each form, Pinkham said.

Dunlap said he doesn't support the repeal of same-day registration, unlike the current secretary of state, Republican Charlie Summers.

Summers argues that the new law will reduce clerical burdens on municipal clerks during elections and take a "lean forward" approach to preventing problems.

Dunlap said he has empathy for the clerks, "but the bottom line is, the elections process is not there for the municipal elections official."

Maine was one of just eight states that allowed same-day registration. Summers said the two-day ban was a moderate compromise.

"If that franchise is as sacred as I believe it is, then I think it's entirely reasonable and moderate to just back this up 48 hours to allow the clerks to prepare the list so that they have the most up-to-date voting list," he said.

Summers said he drafted the legislation, which was championed by Republican legislative leaders, in part to help prevent a Florida-like situation in Maine.

He said Florida officials felt confident in their process until the 2000 presidential election, when chaos broke out.

"It exposed all of the inefficiencies in the system, and I think we are in a similar situation," he said. "I believe that unless we do something to just allow the clerks to prepare for the election, 48 hours, then sooner or later we're going to come up with a problem, and at that point people will be wondering why we haven't done something."

That argument doesn't sway Whittenburg as she gathers signatures.

"You have to base that fear on evidence of something that's there," she said, "and there is no evidence of a problem here."

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

rmetzler@mainetoday.com

 

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