Editor's note: This column has been revised to correct an error regarding voting procedures under LD 1376. If a voter believes they are registered to vote but their name does not appear on the rolls on Election Day, they are entitled to cast a provisional ballot and the clerk has three days to verify residency and either accept or reject the ballot.
Each statewide election has its own character, but Tuesday’s exercise is unusual. It’s been intimately shaped both by what the Legislature did, and what it chose not to do.
For the first time in several decades, there are no bond issues following a “long” session. The new Republican majority wouldn’t consider any, not even the traditional transportation bond that fuels the construction industry -- and regularly wins favor from two-thirds of the voters.
One result: Biennial Highway Fund spending will fall by $230 million. If you liked this year’s “Worst Road” contest, just wait.
Questions 2 and 3, which propose gambling in, respectively, Biddeford and Calais and Lewiston, are on the ballot because of a bipartisan failure to legislate. Once Oxford County got a casino in 2010, it was obvious at least a slim majority favored expanded gambling. Yet the Legislature sat on its hands, rejecting all measures to rationalize the system. Anyone who wants a casino now has to launch a referendum, with uncertain odds; five other gambling measures have failed.
Question 4, a constitutional amendment, stems from a Republican-led lawsuit challenging Maine’s odd procedure of redistricting four years after the Census. This time, the GOP did us a favor. There’s no good reason to wait so long, and while the current amendment applies only to congressional districts, we should use it for legislative districts, too.
Then there’s Question 1, the people’s veto of the Republican bill to end Election Day registration. Rarely has a bill affecting so many been passed for so little reason.
Hearings on LD 1376 yielded no evidence that the 38-year practice of Election Day registration, or EDR, caused any problems. Yet the bill’s pedigree, sponsored by House Speaker Robert Nutting, with Senate President Kevin Raye co-sponsoring, suggested Republicans were serious about eliminating an option used by 45,000 voters in 2008 alone.
There were two arguments against EDR. One is that it burdens municipal clerks. That was rebutted by the clerks themselves, who opposed the bill.
The other argument is that EDR invites voter fraud. The Republicans themselves demolished that argument after GOP Chairman Charles Webster pressed an investigation of 206 “suspicious” votes by college students. Secretary of State Charles Summers found that not a single student had voted illegally.
This leaves one other explanation –- partisan advantage. Since their 2010 electoral sweep, the GOP nationally has been intent on finding ways to keep the “wrong” people from voting –- although, curiously, that might include Gov. Paul LePage, one of thousands registering on Election Day.
In other states, legislation to curtail voter registration drives and require photo IDs has been approved; Maine narrowly rejected photo ID, but would be the first state to end EDR, just as it began it in 1973.
For two centuries, we’ve steadily removed barriers to voting. Now, Republicans want to re-erect them. It’s discouraging that, 235 years after independence, a major political party has decided voting should be curtailed -- in a country where, even in a presidential year, only 60 percent of those eligible vote.
Is there evidence, at least, that banning EDR would benefit Republicans? Sadly, yes. In 2008, Democratic EDR registrations (13,910) surpassed Republican (5,452) by better than 2-1. But both parties were dwarfed by independent voters (22,210). Independents are those, by and large, the GOP would shut out.
Opponents of EDR insist that few states allow it. What they’re really worried about is that more are adopting it. Montana embraced EDR in 2006, North Carolina in 2007, and Iowa in 2008.
So far, eight states allow full EDR, as does Washington, D.C., with another two, Connecticut and Rhode Island, allowing it in presidential years. North Dakota doesn’t even require voters to register; citizens just show up and vote.
Nor are these mostly deep blue states; Wyoming and Idaho are among them. Turnout in all EDR states runs 10-12 percent higher, and most would say that’s a good thing.
LD 1376’s toughest test was in the Senate, where, with 20 Republicans, it carried 18-17. Republicans Chris Rector and Brian Langley voted no, but other respected moderates, including Richard Rosen and Roger Katz, voted yes.
Had even one more senator carefully considered the implications, we wouldn’t be facing the necessity of turning out to vote “yes” on Question 1. But we are. This time, let’s make sure we get it right.