State elections panel hears testimony in Farmington

Ann Bryant/Sun Journal

Ernest Gurney of New Beginnings, which offers housing and programs to youths in crisis, voiced his concerns about the voting rights of the homeless during a public hearing in Farmington recently. The state Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine conducted the hearing. Commission members seated, from left, are Larry Willey, Paula Silsby, John Atwood and Linda Cohen. Not pictured is Tim Wilson.

FARMINGTON — About 35 people voiced concerns about the state's election process at a recent public hearing by the Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine.

Ann Bryant/Sun Journal

Ernest Gurney of New Beginnings, which offers housing and programs to youths in crisis, voiced his concerns about the voting rights of the homeless at a public hearing in Farmington recently. The state Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine conducted the hearing.

Ann Bryant/Sun Journal

Anne Geller addressed the state Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine at its hearing recently in Farmington. Commission members seated, from left, are Larry Willey, Paula Silsby, John Atwood and Linda Cohen. 

The hearing at the University of Maine at Farmington was the fourth of seven scheduled by the commission chaired by former Superior Court Judge John Atwood.

The purpose is to better understand how Mainers view the state’s voting process and what their concerns are, as well as what they feel may need to be changed or modified.

There's some tweaking that's needed, but for the most part Maine's process is not broken, state Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said.

"Don't amend that which is not broken," Arthur Pierce, ballot clerk for Carrabassett Valley and Wyman Plantation, added.

Others were concerned about requiring voter identification and same-day voter registration.

Secretary of State Charlie Summers appointed the commission in May following a resolution passed by the 125th Legislature. Summers tasked the commission with studying voter participation, the system governing voter registration and the conduct of elections.

The five commission members are Atwood, attorney and former Bangor Mayor Larry Willey, special advisor to Seeds of Peace and director of its Maine Seeds Program Tim Wilson, former city clerk for Portland and South Portland Linda Cohen, and former U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby.

All were in attendance to hear from the public.

The voting rights of the homeless were raised by Ernest Gurney. Based on his work with New Beginnings, Gurney said it could be a struggle for the homeless to produce voter identification, if it's required.

"Voting at no cost is critical ... (people should have) the right to vote without having to spend money to vote," he said of the cost to get birth certificates and other identification.

For the person with a post office box, producing items to verify a physical address can also be daunting, Joanne Dunlap of Rangeley suggested.

"Maine doesn't have voter fraud and doesn't need to make it difficult," she said. "If it's not broke, don't fix it."

Concerns about candidates supplying absentee ballots to people and being present while they vote were raised by Anne Geller, chairwoman of the Franklin County Democrats.

Two UMF students spoke of their first attempts to vote last year and subsequent letters they and 204 other students received from the Secretary of State's Office. Calling the letters intimidating, the out-of-state students voted in Farmington for the first time. They said they felt the letters made accusations of voter fraud.

"There was no evidence of any fraud," Sarah Hardy, director of institutional research at UMF, said.

Education is key, commissioner Willey said. He hoped information would be sent to students, especially freshmen, to help them understand the expectations of listing a home in Maine when they register to vote.

Traditionally, Maine has a high voter turnout and a well-informed electorate, Allison Smith of Portland told the commission.

The commission's findings, as well as any recommended legislation, will be reported to the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs of the 126th Legislature.

Written comments may be emailed to sos.office@maine.gov

The commission's next hearing is at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, in Room B 109 at Lewiston High School, 156 East Ave.

abryant@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

GOP fraud

I find it funny that a non-profit organization like ACORN can go out and register voters, and self report the questionable registrations, and the knuckle dragging pearl clutchers in the GOP claim there is no trust in the process any more. But when a for profit organization, notorious for voter registration fraud, is paid millions by the RNC and hired as a consultant to the Rmoney campaign, they whistle and look the other way. Remind me again, who are the real frauds? http://goo.gl/hSvnb

Shane Cote's picture

I'll ask again

I asked this question before with no real response, so I will pose it again; Why should college students, who are here for 28 weeks a year, vote on local issues that may not affect them after they complete their education? In my opinion a student who is living in a residence hall does not qualify as being a resident of the town and should not be able to vote on local issues. Furthermore a student who is the resident of another state should not be able to vote on issues concerning the State of Maine and the law says that students are not required to establish residency while they are a student. I welcome any response that can explain to me why a student from another state should be allowed to vote for the local county sheriff, town budget, or representative for any district in this state.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Voter ID is a Republican scam....

Voter ID is a Republican plan to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Don't believe me? Just ask the county commissioners in many counties in Florida. Yesterday they discovered huge amounts of fraudulent voter registration forms sent in to numerous counties, all signed by the same woman. That woman, was an employee of a national company hired by the "Republican Party" to encourage voter registration, nation wide. I guess that its easier to use deceased people and non existent names. The only mistake they made was having one woman, with very distinctive hand writing, sign thousands of these fake forms.
I'll be honest here, I'm getting sick of turning on the news and having to hear more stories of the Republicans trying to cover up for mistakes. The Republican plan for fixing voter fraud, is voter fraud. Of course they immediately distanced themselves from this company, fired them and hid under their bed. Even the head of this company said he assumes it was the actions of a rouge employee. I'm sorry, you need more than a "rouge employee" to pull this one off. Bottom line is "They Got Caught". Don't allow voter ID, it's just a plan to make it harder for many people to vote. I think the best thing the Republicans can do now is just shut up and see what happens.... I'll bet this will raise a few eye brows, hope it does, I don't care.....

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