June 22, 2011

Maine's same-day voter registration ban signed, challenged

A coalition is mounting a people's veto campaign to erase the new law, which is aimed at reducing voter fraud in Maine.

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

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill Tuesday to repeal Maine's 38-year-old law allowing same-day voter registration. Before the end of the day, a coalition led by the League of Women Voters of Maine filed paperwork with the Secretary of State's Office to launch a people's veto campaign.

"We feel that we want to preserve voting rights in Maine," said Barbara McDade, president of the league. "For 38 years, people have been able to register to vote on the day that they vote. This puts up a barrier to people, and so we want to repeal that."

Joining McDade was Bob Talbot, representing the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine NAACP, and Evert Fowle III of the MCLU.

In the Legislature, votes on the bill this month fell mostly along party lines. Just one House Republican, Meredith Strang Burgess of Cumberland, and two Senate Republicans, Brian Langley of Ellsworth and Chris Rector of Thomaston, voted with minority Democrats to oppose it.

Supporters say the law will prevent voter fraud and ease the burden on municipal clerks during elections, but opponents say it will create unnecessary hurdles to young, elderly and disabled voters.

In an email, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said, "The governor supports steps to ensure that we protect the integrity of the voting process and ensure clerks have the time to properly process registration requests prior to Election Day."

Maine would become the 43rd state to require that people register before Election Day.

The bill also prohibits absentee voting in the two business days before elections. McDade has said her group has no objection to that provision.

The current law has been credited with helping Maine rank among the states with the highest voter turnouts. In 2008, nearly 60,000 voters registered on Election Day.

Organizers of the people's veto campaign will have 90 days after the Legislature adjourns to gather signatures of registered Maine voters. They will need valid signatures totaling at least 10 percent of the ballots cast in the most recent gubernatorial election – about 58,000.

The law is scheduled to take effect this fall, but the portion being challenged will be suspended if the petition is filed before then.

If the petition drive is successful, the question will appear on the statewide ballot in November or in June 2012, depending on how long it takes to gather the signatures and get them certified.

At a press conference planned for Thursday, several other groups are expected to announce their support for the signature-gathering effort and to discuss the campaign.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: rmetzler@mainetoday.com

 

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