Coalition embarks on effort to restore same-day voter registration

LEWISTON — A coalition of progressive groups and other advocates on Friday kicked off their effort to restore Maine's 38-year-old same-day voter registration law. 

The petition-gathering events were held in Lewiston, Portland and Bangor, two days after Secretary of State Charles Summers approved wording for a people’s veto referendum question designed to repeal a provision in the law recently enacted by the 125th Legislature that ended Maine’s practice of allowing people to register to vote on Election Day.

The highly partisan bill was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage and requires people to register at least 48 hours before Election Day. Republicans and Summers said the law was designed to ease the burden on town clerks on Election Day.

Democrats have said the law is part of a national Republican effort to deny ballot access to voters who, they say, tend to vote for Democrats, such as young and poor people. Republicans, primarily through Maine GOP Party Chairman Charlie Webster, counter that the law is important to prevent voter fraud and what Webster described as past "poll-flooding" by Democrats.

Members of the veto coalition had hoped to steer clear of a fight with Webster and the Maine GOP. They argued Friday that their goal is to ensure that all Mainers have the opportunity to vote.

However, Webster's increasing allegations of fraud, and who would be affected by the law, was clearly on organizers' minds Friday.

"It's politics at its worst," said Don Berry, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, a member of the coalition. "People being alienated are going to be on the Democratic side, for the most part."

Michelle Small of the Maine League of Women Voters said the new law would most affect the young and the poor.

"The Census Bureau tells us that one in six people move every year," Small said. "That's primarily the young and economically disadvantaged. I think we're going to see elderly people hurt, particularly those who have moved to retirement communities who haven't had a chance to register yet."

Webster last month told the Portland Press Herald that Democrats have used  same-day voter registration to "steal elections." On Friday, Webster said he was gathering evidence that would show that voter fraud, particularly in districts containing college campuses, was rampant in the state.

He said the fraud was so rampant that he was considering petitioning the governor to push back the registration window even further than the new law, which is currently two business days before an election.

Webster said that over the years, Democrats have deployed buses of college students to the polls. He said in some cases the out-of-state students would vote in their home states and in Maine.

"I've witnessed busloads of people coming. I've seen it in Farmington," said Webster. "I hear about it all the time. Town clerks have called me."

Webster said the new law was required to make sure people don't vote twice.

"You can't be a Maine resident for a day," he said.

Small said Webster's comments were unfounded.

"I don't take Charlie Webster too seriously, but it's perfectly legal for college students to vote in the towns where they go to college," Small said. "They're doing nothing wrong."

David Farmer, a spokesman for the coalition, said that both parties have poll watchers who would report the activity that Webster was describing if it were occurring.

"If (Webster) or anyone else were aware of wrongdoing, why are they just now coming forward in the heat of a political campaign?" Farmer said. "They didn't present that evidence in their testimony before the Legislature. In fact, they grasped for their rationale."

Summers, one of the leading advocates for the law, told the Sun Journal on April 30 the bill was designed to "protect the integrity of voting" by alleviating pressure on town clerks on Election Day. He said the bill "has nothing to do with voter fraud," an issue that has yielded only two prosecutions in Maine history.

However, since then, Webster and others have repeatedly pointed to voter fraud as the impetus for the law.

Paperwork to initiate a people’s veto of that law was submitted on June 21 by Barbara McDade, president of the League of Women Voters of Maine, and five other signers.

Organizers have until Aug. 8 to collect and verify more than 57,000 petitions to get it on the November ballot.

The veto effort specifically targets the law's removal of same-day voter registration. It does not affect the law's language that prohibits absentee voting within two business days of Election Day.

The latter issue prompted the Maine Town & City Clerks' Association to endorse the new law, as several clerks complained that absentee voting created a burden on Election Day.

The association said it did not support a repeal of same-day voter registration.

Several organizations are spearheading the veto effort, which will operate under the political action committee Protect Maine Votes.

The organizations include Engage Maine, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, Maine League of Conservation Voters, League of Women Voters of Maine, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine League of Young Voters, Maine People’s Alliance, Opportunity Maine, Maine Equal Justice Partners, EqualityMaine, Maine Women’s Lobby, Maine Education Association, MSEA-SEIU, Speaking Up for Us, the Disability Rights Center, Preble Street Resource Center and Homeless Voices for Justice.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Shameful

Fact: Laws like this been introduced, or already put into effect all over the country this year.
Fact: There is no evidence of significant voter fraud occurring anywhere in the United States.
Example: Republicans have used Kansas as an example of rampant voter fraud
Fact: There were 7 convictions for voter fraud in Kansas.. in the past 13 years
Commentary: Out of millions of votes, this is insignificant.
Math: If KS only had 1,000,000 votes cast over those 13 years this would still only amount to 7 ten-thousandths of a percent. (0.0007%)
Fact: The Maine Town & City Clerks' Association stated that they do not have a problem with same day voter registration.

These laws make the whole voting process more fraudulent by systematically reducing the likelihood of several specific demographics of people to vote, without having the ability to significantly reduce any individual voter fraud, even if there was any significant voter fraud to be reduced about in the first place.

The Maine law actually has nothing in it to reduce the types of fraud that were used as examples by the GOP to institute the law in the first place.

 's picture

Fun Facts

Ending same day registration and requiring photo IDs won't stop the alleged voter fraud they claim.

Someone with an ID can go to other precincts to vote or obtain multiple registrations, or fake their ID just as easily as they could pretend to be a new voter or someone else.

Out of state college students have just as much right to vote in national elections here as they do at home. They aren't given local ballots (I wasn't when I voted in NY in the early 90s) and they don't sway local elections. Besides, a kid that stays the school year and summer term is just as legally a resident as someone who moves here. Has just as much right to vote as someone born here.

Ending same day registration won't save poll workers time and effort. The town clerks organization in Maine has already said it doesn't put any undue strain on them on election day. All a Voter ID law does is change VOLUNTEER poll workers from people who help voters into bouncers who would be obligated to turn people away if they don't have ID (and potentially put themselves at risk if someone get's angry).

Everyone who likes to claim that it's currently "easy" to vote multiple times should go try it. They claim that without seeming to realize that election boards are smart enough to correlate names on the registry and other simple measures that prevent or catch that kind of fraud.

This measure is ridiculous on it's face, and needs to be put down.

Rich Gouette's picture

progressive....

"A coalition of progressive groups..."

Don't really even need to read further do we...

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

An echo

All the reasons given to justify this law are a repetition of the reasons given to justify the poll tax, literacy tests, property ownership requirements, maleness requirement and other obstacles to voting. All of them were eventually deemed unamerican and unconstitutional as is this law. The point of it is clearly to prevent people from voting whom you believe will not vote for your side. This may be smart politics but it is unfair and undemocratic. We should be protecting the right to vote not putting obstacles to it for political gain.

David  Cote's picture

Who is being restricted from voting?

On any day when city and town halls are open for business anyone living in, and / or attending college In that given locale may register to vote. It's a process that is simple to complete just as it is to register your car or conducting other business one may have that requires permits and such. Nobody is denying the right to register to vote to anyone. That being said, I do agree with the notion of placing this question on a referendum ballot for one reason ; It is an issue that the voters of Maine should decide on and not the government. Also, I am curious to see the proof Mr. Webster is speaking of which he possesses. He opened that door in this article and he needs to explain his motives as well. But I do believe Democrats have but one motive to continue same day registration and that is to merely enhance their voter base. As with the Republicans it's all about the power, not the people responsible for giving them that power. And that's how it has always been, and probably always will be.

 's picture

Same Day Registration

Older people are usually the ones who do register to vote so don't use that. I see no problem whatsoever with requiring preregistration or for that matter having to show identification when going into vote. And don't say Maine doesn't have voter fraud because it does just like all the other states.
I don't think it's so much to protect the voters as those who are up for election.

 's picture

proof

Webster is doing nothing but writing checks he can't cash. Bring it on Charlie! There must be hundreds, even thousands of arrests and convictions for voter fraud, right? Busloads of them?

Sewell Colby's picture

same-day voter registration

I see no problem with pre-registering. Many of us are at the city/town office numerous throughout the year and registering could be accomplished then. I don't believe the elderly have a problem with is because most of them have been registered for years. Yes, Maine has a very low voter fraud issue and this would help keep it that way in the future. The city/town clerks have much to do on vote day, this would ease their work load at a time of increased activity and distraction.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Yet more made up stuff

Webster has been talking for years about busloads of out of staters being brought into Maine to "steal elections." He has yet to offer one shred of proof.

Charlie - if you have proof, I challenge you to offer it, not your vague assertions that sound good over a couple of beers in a tavern, but real proof. Cases of massive voter fraud like you allege must be documented somewhere.

But, if this is something you just made up, you might want to have your nose bobbed and then just be quiet.

CHARLES NEWELL's picture

Peoples Veto

Thanks for a very revealing article on the motives behind this effort to restrict Maine people from voting. Lots of petitions out today including at the Norway Art Fair - stop in and sign at the booth in the community/nonprofit section. Push back against this effort to invent a problem and lower turnout in Maine.

Jim Cyr's picture

Maine voters

and how are they being "restricted"? One restriction should be on "out of state" college people that are not citizens of this state!

Cris Johnson's picture

Charlie Webster and Republican ethics

Charlie Webster's commentary on the changes to Maine's Election Laws is worse than buffoonery. If we are to believe that he is an intelligent, serious minded political fixture in Maine politics, then we must conclude that he's an unethical scoundrel.

Issuing hollow proclamations designed to subvert the fundamental rights of Mainers to show up and vote is an outright disgrace. I trust that Maine voters are beginning to realize the fundamental nature of the "New Maine Republican Party:"

Moose Scat.

 's picture

clown

Webster is a clown! Where is your proof? Not just unfounded allegations, but real, verifiable proof?

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