AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Supporters of an effort to preserve election day voter registration in Maine insist it's not a partisan issue, but their effort to let voters decide the issue is drawing sharply opposing views from Democrats and Republicans.
The rhetoric heated up as the coalition to keep same-day registration gave state election officials petitions that could force a November referendum on the issue. More than 68,000 voters' signatures were turned in Monday, and the campaign said the total could reach about 70,000 before the filing deadline arrived Tuesday afternoon.
The Protect Maine Votes coalition — 18 groups that include organized labor, civil libertarians, consumer and public health advocates, disabled and homeless groups — is seeking to repeal a state law that requires registration at least two business days before an election.
"Here in Maine, the people's veto is part of our democratic process, and the extreme left-wing groups and individuals behind this signature-gathering effort have every right to try to pursue it," Republican House Speaker Robert Nutting of Oakland said.
"At this point, it's too early to tell whether they have enough valid signatures to get the question on the ballot. If they do, I'm confident that Maine voters will reject it," Nutting said in a statement.
State GOP Chairman Charles Webster said the issue has major political implications, saying dozens of legislative races have been swung by 100 or fewer votes in the last decade.
Leading Democrats in the Maine House pledge to support efforts to repeal the law, which they say makes it harder for Maine people to vote.
"Democrats fought hard against this rollback of voting rights in June when the proposal was debated in the Legislature," said Rep. Emily Ann Cain of Orono, the House Democratic leader.
"We stood with Maine people against the law then, we stand with them today with the delivery of these signatures, and we will continue to stand with them to protect Maine's tradition of strong voter rights."
Rep. Mike Carey of Lewiston, the lead House Democrat on the committee that considered the proposal, said, "We are glad to see that Maine voters will now have a chance to directly vote on this controversial law, and that they will still be able to register to vote on the day that they do so."
The Secretary of State must certify at least 57,277 signatures in order to place the question on the ballot.