The foundation of America is built on every eligible citizen’s ability to participate in our democracy, and that starts with making the right to exercise our vote as easy and accessible as possible. Maine has a proud tradition of civic engagement and is consistently among the states with the highest voter turnout in national elections. Our town meetings give citizens hands-on control of their local communities, and our citizen legislature provides a level of public access that few other states match. The Maine Secretary of State’s office does great work to help ensure that every eligible Mainer has the opportunity to participate in our democracy.

Sara Gideon

While Mainers are rightly proud of these facts, there is still a lot we can do to encourage and facilitate higher rates of participation. One of the most significant steps we can take is to make the process of registering to vote as easy as possible for all eligible people, so everyone has the opportunity to make their voice heard at the ballot box.

With that in mind, I have introduced LD 1463, “An Act To Create An Automatic Voter Registration System,” in this session of the Legislature. The bill would streamline the processing and updating of eligible voters’ registrations, saving Mainers time and the state money. It would also reduce the likelihood of human error that could result in an eligible voter getting the run-around or an ineligible voter being accidentally registered. Here is how it works:

Imagine you need to get a new driver’s license. You go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), where, to get your license, you already have to provide documentation that also proves your eligibility to vote. Those who demonstrate eligibility will be automatically added to the Central Voter Registration file and provided the option to select a party registration or to decline to register.

Automatic Voter Registration also helps keep our voter records clean and up-to-date by updating voter records based on the information that they provided to the state agency (like the BMV) to begin with. That will help streamline voting for those Mainers who are already on the rolls, but may have changed addresses, while making the administration of our elections simpler for the Maine officials responsible for overseeing our voting process.

And voters can still register the old-fashioned way with the card at their town hall if they prefer.

This system will save us all time and money, and ensure every eligible Mainer’s right to participate fully in our democracy, however they wish.

So far, 18 other states — from Vermont, to Alaska, Georgia and California — have adopted some form of Automatic Voter Registration and seen great success in providing a more efficient and secure election system.

In support of that state’s Automatic Voter Registration ballot measure, Alaska’s Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said that he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski “are working every day to expand access to services and reduce costs for Alaskans, especially rural Alaskans, and (this policy) does exactly that for voter registration. It is an obvious fit for us. We should take advantage of an opportunity to cut waste and stop forcing people to fill out more and more forms.”

When it comes to participation in our democracy, Mainers have a lot to be proud of. Putting in place an Automatic Voter Registration system that saves us time and money while increasing the accuracy and security of our election system is one more thing we can add to the list.

Sara Gideon of Freeport is Speaker of the Maine House.