SENATE REPUBLICANS GUT VOTERS' RIGHTS
Eliminating same-day voter registration will eliminate tens of thousands of voters
AUGUSTA—Senate Republicans gutted voters’ rights today in a partisan vote of 18 – 17 in favor of a measure that eliminates election day voter registration and amends the rules for absentee ballot submission.
Senate Democratic Leader Barry Hobbins, who has served on and off in the Legislature since the 1970s, said, “Today’s vote is an erosion of our Constitutional right. In the seventies, we made such progress in a bipartisan fashion to improve access to the ballot box for Maine voters. And now we’re chipping away at the foundation of our democracy.”
LD 1376 removes same day voter registration and mandates that a voter must be registered 21 days before election day. It also requires absentee ballots be submitted three business days prior to election day. Lastly, it creates a new layer of bureaucracy by setting up a provisional ballot system which has never existed in Maine.
Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond made a number of speeches on the Senate floor urging his Republican colleagues to not break from thirty-eight years of Maine’s voting culture.
“For nearly four decades we’ve had a system in place that has not only worked, but it’s worked well,” said Sen. Alfond of Portland. “So the intention of this bill is purely political. And it’s fear based. While no one is immune to the consequences of this bill it will be especially harmful to first time voters and the elderly.”
Maine has the third highest voter participation record in the country. According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 60,000 Maine voters registered to vote and voted on election day in 2008. In 2010, nearly 20,000 people registered to vote on election day.
“It’s ridiculous that because we’re afraid that one person may violate the law—for which there are penalties, we are going to tell 59,999 people that they can’t vote,” said Senator Phil Bartlett of Gorham.
Most of the Democratic caucus gave floor speeches encouraging the Senate to vote down the measure including:
Senator Troy Jackson of Allagash told the story of one of his constituents, a World War II veteran, who was moved from his home in one town to an assisted living center in another town. “I cannot go home and tell the veterans and elderly that the rules for voting have changed. Troops have fought and continue to fight to preserve democracy. A cornerstone of democracy is voting.”
Senator Patrick: “One in six Mainers move every 18 to 24 months. That is, nearly 200,000 Maine voters who will likely encounter trouble on voting day. I will not do anything that will disenfranchise even one voter.”
Senator Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick: “As legislators we came here in January. It was cold out. We talked about doing things for Maine people, supporting jobs and improving the economy. Now it’s 80 degrees out and all we’re talking about is abortion, guns, and depriving Maine people of their right to vote. I don’t know what happened between January and May but we’re debating issues that no one ran on. This is not what the people of Maine sent us here to do.”
An amendment seeking to restore same day voter registration but would have kept the absentee ballot provision in 1376 was submitted by Senator Richard Woodbury, the only Independent in the Senate. The amendment was rejected as were other attempts to continue the debate and negotiation.
The bill now goes to the House and will return to the Senate to be engrossed.