FARMINGTON — About 35 people voiced concerns about the state's election process at a recent public hearing by the Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine.
The hearing at the University of Maine at Farmington was the fourth of seven scheduled by the commission chaired by former Superior Court Judge John Atwood.
The purpose is to better understand how Mainers view the state’s voting process and what their concerns are, as well as what they feel may need to be changed or modified.
There's some tweaking that's needed, but for the most part Maine's process is not broken, state Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said.
"Don't amend that which is not broken," Arthur Pierce, ballot clerk for Carrabassett Valley and Wyman Plantation, added.
Others were concerned about requiring voter identification and same-day voter registration.
Secretary of State Charlie Summers appointed the commission in May following a resolution passed by the 125th Legislature. Summers tasked the commission with studying voter participation, the system governing voter registration and the conduct of elections.
The five commission members are Atwood, attorney and former Bangor Mayor Larry Willey, special advisor to Seeds of Peace and director of its Maine Seeds Program Tim Wilson, former city clerk for Portland and South Portland Linda Cohen, and former U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby.
All were in attendance to hear from the public.
The voting rights of the homeless were raised by Ernest Gurney. Based on his work with New Beginnings, Gurney said it could be a struggle for the homeless to produce voter identification, if it's required.
"Voting at no cost is critical ... (people should have) the right to vote without having to spend money to vote," he said of the cost to get birth certificates and other identification.
For the person with a post office box, producing items to verify a physical address can also be daunting, Joanne Dunlap of Rangeley suggested.
"Maine doesn't have voter fraud and doesn't need to make it difficult," she said. "If it's not broke, don't fix it."
Concerns about candidates supplying absentee ballots to people and being present while they vote were raised by Anne Geller, chairwoman of the Franklin County Democrats.
Two UMF students spoke of their first attempts to vote last year and subsequent letters they and 204 other students received from the Secretary of State's Office. Calling the letters intimidating, the out-of-state students voted in Farmington for the first time. They said they felt the letters made accusations of voter fraud.
"There was no evidence of any fraud," Sarah Hardy, director of institutional research at UMF, said.
Education is key, commissioner Willey said. He hoped information would be sent to students, especially freshmen, to help them understand the expectations of listing a home in Maine when they register to vote.
Traditionally, Maine has a high voter turnout and a well-informed electorate, Allison Smith of Portland told the commission.
The commission's findings, as well as any recommended legislation, will be reported to the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs of the 126th Legislature.
Written comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
The commission's next hearing is at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, in Room B 109 at Lewiston High School, 156 East Ave.