Same Day Voter Registration Being Debated In Augusta
Lawmakers in Augusta are preparing to vote on a bill that would eliminate same day voter registration. Opponents of the bill say it could keep some people from making it to the polls.Maine has been allowing voters to register on election day since 1973. Secretary of State Charles Summers helped to craft a new bill that would put an end to that practice. “It would back up absentee balloting & voter registration by two business days. Thursday at 5:00 before the election registration would end at that point and then absentee balloting would end at that point,” Summers says. “They would still continue to receive absentee ballots that had been requested and mailed back in.”Maine has traditionally been among the national leaders in voter turnout. Critics of this new bill say it could prevent some Mainer’s from voting. Sarah Standiford, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, says if this bill passes those numbers could go down. “So this is all about increasing access to the voting booth. And there’s nothing we should be doing to turn back the clock on election day voter registration,” Standiford says. “There are lots of people, especially those on the economic margins who election day registration is a critical right and responsibility.”Summers points out that voter turnout rates haven’t changed that much since the advent of same day voter registration. In 1972, the year before same day registration was allowed in Maine, voter turnout was just over 60%. The national voter turnout in 1972 was almost 5 percentage points lower. For higher profile elections the numbers haven’t fluctuated that much either. In the 1960 Presidential election that featured John Kennedy and Richard Nixon as candidates voter turnout was 71.73%. That was without same day voter registration. By comparison in 2008, with President Barack Obama squaring off against Republican nominee John McCain, and with same day registration in Maine, voter turnout was almost an identical 71.75%. Summers argues the bill would not hurt voter turnout numbers but simply make election day easier on clerk. Election days are getting increasingly busier with the number of absentee ballots on the rise. In 2000, 10% of Mainers voted absentee. In 2008, that number jumped to 32%. In the last election in Bangor 60% of voters voted by way of the absentee ballot. “Not to mention four times as many people registered on election day in 2010 as did in the previous 43 days,” Summers says. “So what I’m trying to point out is that there is a huge stress on the clerks offices right before the election.”Summers says there will still be plenty of time to register without giving city and town officials more to do on election day. “But what it would do is afford the clerks in the cities and towns across the state the ability to have two days to prepare for elections.” The Maine House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on that bill any day now. We’ll let you know how that vote goes as soon as the news is announced.