AUGUSTA — The coalition seeking to restore the state's 38-year-old, same-day voter registration law announced Tuesday that several Republican lawmakers who voted in June to repeal the law have registered on Election Day or in the period that could soon be illegal.
According to the coalition Protect Maine Votes, Gov. Paul LePage also registered the day before Election Day, which would not be allowed if the Legislature's repeal of the law withstands a people's veto effort in November.
LePage signed LD 1376 into law last session. The bill repealed the law that allowed voters to register to vote on Election Day and outlawed registration within two business days of an election.
The coalition says LePage registered to vote on the Monday before Tuesday's Election Day in Waterville in 1982.
The group also discovered that Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, had taken advantage of the law.
Raye co-sponsored the bill that repealed Election Day registration earlier this year. The group verified with the town clerk in Perry that Raye registered to vote on Election Day Nov. 6, in 2001.
Raye said that he used election-day registration after moving from Brewer to Perry.
"To suggest that because one followed the law previously (means they) can’t support a change is just, basically, nonsense," Raye said.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage's press secretary, acknowledged that the governor had used election-day registration in the past. However, she said, the governor would happily comply with the new law.
"They had to go all the way back to 1982 to find him using (election-day registration)," Bennett said.
"It sounds like the governor is being accused of abiding by the law in 1982," she said. "I understand they are trying to accuse the governor and staff of being hypocritical. However, the fact is all of these people, including myself, are law-abiding and we will continue to be with the new law in place."
David Farmer, a spokesman for Protect Maine Votes, said the Legislature should reinstate same-day registration during this week's special legislative session. He urged the lawmakers who used same-day registration or registered within the time frame that is now illegal to reconsider their votes against it.
No such legislation appears to be in the works.
Farmer said the coalition used the state's electronic voting system to search for lawmakers who may have used election-day registration in the past. The group then verified its findings with the lawmakers' respective town clerks.
According to the group, among those who voted to repeal election-day registration and impose the new restrictions, but who also have registered to vote during the now-illegal time period, are Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Poland, as well as GOP representatives Bernard Ayotte of Caswell, Eleanor Espling of New Gloucester, Amy Volk of Scarborough, Patrick Flood of Winthrop, David Richardson of Carmel, David Johnson of Eddington and Aaron Libby of Waterboro.
The coalition presented copies of the cards to the Sun Journal. At least one lawmaker has refuted the group's claim.
The group says that voting records for nine other members of the Legislature who voted to kill same-day registration show they also registered on or near Election Day. However, the group said those records could not be verified.
"We’re asking these members to reconsider the elimination of same-day registration and the move of the registration deadline," Farmer said in a statement released Tuesday. "Same-day registration has worked for nearly 40 years, and it has worked for many of the people who voted to kill it."
Several members of LePage's senior staff also registered on or near Election Day.
Lance Dutson, CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, registered on the Monday before Election Day in 2010. The conservative advocacy group has recently hosted a pair of paid luncheons featuring Secretary of State Charlie Summers, who supports the repeal of election-day registration.
Dutson said the policy center recently filed paperwork with the state's ethics commission to oppose the people's veto effort. Because of that effort, the issue of whether to bring back election-day registration has been placed on the ballot for voters to decide this November.
As for his own use of election-day registration, Dutson acknowledged that he has used it three times during the three previous election cycles. Dutson said that he took advantage of election-day registration because he moved frequently during the various political campaigns in which he's been involved.
Dutson said that election-day registration was convenient. However, his and policy center's concern was that there were too many holes in the state's central voter system to afford such a luxury.
"It was certainly convenient to be able to register on Election Day," Dutson said. "But if the law was as it currently is now, I'd be pleased to comply with that as well."
There has been no evidence to date to back up fears of mistakes and fraud in Maine's voting system, but Dutson said the Maine Heritage Policy Center planned to release a report on the state's central voting system that would underscore the problems.
The issue will appear as Question 1 on the ballot in November. A yes vote will restore election-day registration. A no vote will uphold the current law.
"Same-day voter registration has worked," Farmer said. "We should make sure it’s available for everyone."
Raye, however, questioned why 43 other states haven't adopted same-day registration laws.
"The law establishing same-day registration was created what, 38 years ago?" he said. "... During that time, there certainly hasn’t been a groundswell of states to follow it."