Maine residents visiting a Bureau of Motor Vehicles office for driver’s license or ID transactions can now automatically be registered to vote or have their voter registrations updated under a new system that has significantly expanded voter rolls in other states.

Eligible participants – those who have already provided documentation showing they are U.S. citizens, over the age of 16 and Maine residents – are given a chance to opt out of the new automatic voter registration system. If they do not opt out, they are asked to verify their personal information and can select a political party, or choose to be unenrolled or independent.

The system allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, with the registration automatically taking effect when they turn 18.

Automatic voter registration is seen as especially convenient for people who are moving because they can update the address on their voter registration as they change their address with the BMV, said Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows. The system also will automatically alert a community when a voter has changed addresses and registered to vote in a different town.

“People don’t always think to … let the municipality know that they are no longer a registered voter at their old address,” Bellows said. “We think this is a huge step forward for accessibility and voter list integrity.”

Traditionally, physical voter registration cards – filled out at town offices, BMV locations or voter registration drives – have been sent to the Secretary of State’s Office, then mailed to the appropriate town clerk’s office. Cumberland Town Clerk Tammy O’Donnell said it could take weeks – in some cases, months – for the cards to work their way through the system.


“Having people register electronically at the DMV, it’ll be an instant process,” O’Donnell said. “Once they’ve registered there, we’ll be able to actually see them registered right here at our office.”

AARP volunteer Pat Wehner, who was part of a group that tested the system before it launched last Tuesday, said the questions were simple and the system would be easy to navigate for anybody comfortable with a smartphone or tablet. If someone was having difficulty, she said, an employee was available to help.

“The employee at the BMV could answer our questions or tell us how to use the system, but they couldn’t see the information that we were actually putting in,” Wehner said. “So it was very private.”

Sara Squires, public policy director at Disability Rights Maine, who also helped test the system, said many people with disabilities would be able to navigate it, but people who have vision loss or difficulty with manual dexterity might have trouble. Squires said her group would work with the Secretary of State’s Office to address these concerns.

The biggest change that automatic voter registration brings is that Mainers interacting with the BMV will now be presented with the choice of “opting out” of registering to vote, rather than needing to proactively “opt in.”

That is a concern for the Maine Policy Institute, a politically conservative think tank. Spokesman Jacob Posik said the act of registering to vote itself is a form of political speech, so the new system essentially opts people into making political speech, Posik said.


“I don’t know any other law that opts people into making political speech in any regard,” Posik said. “I’m sure there’s plenty of instances where people sign things or otherwise do things where they’re not really paying attention to the fine print.”

Adam Zuckerman, lobbyist for liberal advocacy group Maine People’s Alliance, said automatic registration removes obstacles to participating in democracy. “It’s going to help rural voters, seniors, people with disabilities, new voters, really anyone who could struggle to register,” he said.

Maine is the 20th state to implement AVR. Other New England states saw increases in voter registrations after implementing the system. According to a 2019 Brennan Center for Justice report, Vermont saw a 60.2 percent increase in the average number of voter registrations per week the year it implemented AVR, and Rhode Island saw a 47.4 percent increase.

League of Women Voters of Maine Executive Director Anna Kellar said AVR doesn’t take away any other voter registration methods.

“They could still do it at their town hall, or at the polls or by mail,” Kellar said. “But it gives another quick option so that as people are doing a routine bit of business, where they’re changing their address with one part of the government, it is updating their voter registration at the same time.”

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