To Maine’s credit, independence, common sense and self-reliance have always been hallmarks of state politics. That reputation, however, took a hit last week as the Legislature passed a bill born out of the cynical partisanship of national politics with the aim of helping Republicans win elections across the country.

LD 1376, “An Act to Preserve the Integrity of the Voter Registration and Election Process,” which Gov. Paul LePage has indicated he will sign into law, would eliminate a 38-year-old Maine law allowing voters to register on Election Day.

Proponents of the bill say same-day registration puts into question the integrity of the voting system, as it could allow a person to register to vote in multiple locations on the day of an election. Backers also argue that the bill would ease the strain put on municipal election clerks by having to handle registrations on their busiest day of the year.

The same arguments are being made in state capitals throughout the country as Republican legislators work to pass laws to tighten voter registration restrictions, reduce early-voting periods and require voter identification, all of which would impact overwhelmingly constituencies that typically vote Democrat: students, immigrants and the poor, among others.

Never mind that voter fraud cases are so rare as to be almost non-existent, or that the advancing use of technology to track voter rolls is further tightening the system. Never mind that, in Maine at least, municipal clerks do not seem to have much of a problem handling same-day registrations, or that those registrations have been credited with making Maine’s voter turnout one of the five highest in the country, alongside four other states with similar Election Day registration policies.

According to the New York Times, already there have been successful drives to tighten voting restrictions in Georgia and North Carolina, as well as Florida and Ohio, two states with Republican-controlled Legislatures that will be important, as always, in the 2012 election.

Nationally, it appears the Republicans have found that many in their ranks are convinced that Democrats – including President Obama – have “stolen” elections, so the specter of voter fraud is an effective bogeyman for passing laws with the sole, unstated purpose of keeping the GOP in power.

The only question is whether Mainers are going to tolerate this kind of backdoor politicking, or continue with its history of policies that have made Maine elections successful for decades.

Ben Bragdon is the managing editor of Current Publishing. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter.

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