An estimated 6 percent of votes cast in Maine’s last election were cast by citizens who registered to vote on Election Day.
If Maine fails to preserve Election Day registration at the polls on Nov. 8, we would be saying that — going forward — those citizens don’t matter and those votes shouldn’t count.
That’s not the sentiment of Maine people, nor is it in the public’s interest to dismiss a single vote, which is why we must vote “yes” on Question 1 next week to preserve Election Day registration.
One of the most compelling reasons to do that comes from town and city clerks themselves, including Orono Clerk Wanda Thomas, who may very well be the state’s top expert on issues of college town registrations since she serves the electorate of the University of Maine.
Thomas told mainecampus.com — the UMaine student newspaper — that she makes sure to staff the campus resident-only district precinct with extra clerks on Election Day to process registrations.
If students lose the Election Day option, Thomas said, they would have to register at the Town Office where “more staff may need to be hired year-round because there would be no way to gauge when registrants would come in.”
Elimination of Election Day registration would, as Thomas understands it, cost government more to administer.
At a time when all levels of government are doing everything possible to cut costs, now is not the time to increase the financial burden on taxpayers.
Then, there’s the burden on government personnel.
Eliminating Election Day registration was, according to lawmakers, designed to give clerks time to verify registrants’ legal status. But, there’s no enforcement language in the law requiring clerks to do so, just an understanding that they will.
But will they?
In the more than 200 days since 206 public college students accused by GOP Chairman Charlie Webster of possible fraud were registered on Election Day last year, or in the more than 2,000 days since a dozen St. Joe’s College students accused of the same were registered to vote in 2004, no residency checks were performed. Following Webster's accusations, all students were checked and all accusations were found baseless.
But, realistically, without enforcement language written into the law to require clerks to verify residency, two days might as well be 200, or 2,000.
But that’s really a minor point.
Last year, of the 623 UMaine students who voted on campus, 500 registered on Election Day, according to Thomas. If Maine had imposed the two-day rule last year, some of those 500 would probably have registered in time to vote, but we cannot assume that all would have because some people are born procrastinators, which is not a crime.
Hindering the full opportunity for any of those students to vote, without verifiable evidence that we are courting fraud, is not good politics.
Finally, let’s also consider that the impassioned dual arguments presented to the Legislature that resulted in the elimination of Election Day registration: the specter of widespread fraud and the problem of busloads of students rushing poll places each Election Day.
Both assertions were intended to frighten; both were determined to be groundless.
Sure, there are some get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day among both parties, but no precinct has ever reported being overwhelmed by busloads of students arriving on Election Day to swing elections. And, there is no rampant voter fraud, with only two cases uncovered in decades.
So, what may have seemed to lawmakers to be convincing arguments are simply not true. The Legislature was duped and, one week from today, voters have an opportunity to reverse a law that was adopted based on a campaign of false information.
We urge voters to protect and preserve Election Day registration, to take a stand that every vote counts and to do all possible to ensure that every vote is counted.
Vote “yes” on Question 1.