This year, Republicans in Augusta passed a law eliminating Election Day registration. As a result, Maine people will no longer be able to register to vote on Election Day.
I advocated strongly against the measure as the Democratic lead on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which first considered this proposal.
Eliminating Election Day registration is bad for democracy. It is a solution in search of a problem.
Eliminating Election Day registration only makes it more difficult for Maine people to vote. It makes it harder for people who are older, or disabled, or move often and have trouble getting to the town hall to register a change of address.
During the past two elections, nearly 70,000 Mainers registered to vote on Election Day. That’s 70,000 Mainers who would not have been able to cast their votes under the new law.
They come from cities, suburbs, rural Maine, retirement homes and college campuses. They were not a faction or an organized group. They represented every kind of Mainer and they all voted their conscience.
Protecting all of our voting rights is critical.
Election Day registration engages more people in democracy. Maine ranks among the top three states in America for voter turnout because of its Election Day registration law.
Some proponents of the new law say it will eliminate fraud, yet none of them could provide real evidence that fraud is a problem in this state.
In fact, Secretary of State Charlie Summers gave public testimony before my committee, and wrote in the Bangor Daily News, that Maine elections are run well.
Now that a groundswell effort to overturn the law is growing, Summers and his allies are changing their tune to justify why they passed a law that makes it more difficult for Maine people to vote.
Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster tried to mislead the public by waving around a list of college students who paid out-of-state tuition and registered to vote in Maine. He suggested this list was evidence of fraud.
The stunt reeked of Cold War-era McCarthyism, when a political figure created fear and spread allegations without any facts. He even had a secret list.
The truth is, there have only been two cases of voter fraud in Maine in the past 38 years.
Maine law and the Supreme Court say that students may register to vote in the town where they live. It’s that simple. You may register to vote where you live.
The right to vote in Maine does not depend on how you pay college tuition. Webster’s attack on young people choosing to pursue an education in Maine is wrong.
It is illegal to vote in two places. If anyone does that, they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
We’ve also seen Webster brag about his effort to suppress college voters at the University of Maine at Farmington. Recently, he told the Sun Journal that the college Republicans at the UMF worked to prevent university vans from being used to take student voters to the polls on Election Day 2010. Webster said they reserved university vans to use on Election Day in November, but then parked the vans in a lot so they couldn’t be used to take students to the polls.
Making it harder to vote is nothing to be proud of — it’s voter suppression and it’s wrong.
Despite efforts to mislead the public and muddy the waters, the facts remain the same. Maine elections have been well-run, making our state a national leader in voter participation.
We should encourage young people to pursue their educations here. We should encourage young people to put down roots in our state and get involved in our communities. We should encourage young people to vote, not block their participation in democracy.
Encouraging participation in democracy shouldn’t be partisan. It makes no sense to make it harder for people to vote in Maine. It’s hard to understand why this is a priority when Maine people face so many real problems.
Rep. Mike Carey represents part of Lewiston and serves as the lead House Democrat on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.