DAVID FARMER

No excuse to make voting harder

Posted June 15, 2011, at 4:39 p.m.
Last modified June 15, 2011, at 7:08 p.m.

We should make it easier for people to vote, not harder.

But the Maine Legislature, along partisan lines, has decided that our state should move in the other direction by making it more cumbersome to cast a ballot.

Along the way, a number of arguments have been trotted out to support the change, which will eliminate the ability of Maine residents to register and vote on Election Day.

Same-day registration allows a resident of Maine to go to the polls on Election Day, register and then vote. Instead of two trips — one to register and then a second days or months later — they can exercise their constitutionally protected rights in one visit.

At various times, proponents have said we need to make this change to protect the integrity of our voting process, to relieve the burden on overworked clerks, to prevent voter fraud and to keep Democrats from stealing elections.

None of these arguments are true.

There have been only two prosecutions for voter fraud involving same-day voter registration in the 38 years the practice has been allowed.

While town and city clerks face enormous challenges administering elections, most of them say same-day registration isn’t the problem. Instead, it’s the growing popularity of absentee voting and challenged or provisional ballots that are more difficult to administer.

If Democrats are using same-day voter registration to steal elections, which was the claim of Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster last week, then we aren’t particularly good at it, considering how we got our clocks cleaned in November.

And finally, if it is the integrity of elections that we are concerned with, we should turn to the Maine Constitution, which enumerates the rights of state residents to vote and choose their government.

In Article 1, Section 2, the Constitution reads: “Power inherent in people. All power is inherent in the people; all free governments are founded in their authority and instituted for their benefit; they have therefore an unalienable and indefeasible right to institute government, and to alter, reform, or totally change the same, when their safety and happiness require it.”

The Constitution places such importance on this responsibility and right, that it precedes everything else except the Preamble and the declaration of natural rights.

But mythology is hard to overcome, especially when there is potential for political gain.

Assertions become true not because they can be backed up by evidence but because they are repeated often enough.

And with the rate at which assertions move on the Internet, through social media and 24-hour news outlets, it doesn’t take long for rumor, innuendo or political distortion to be treated as truth.

In Maine, we’ve seen the mythology mill paint a distorted view of taxes, of our business climate and environmental regulations. Now there’s an effort afoot to use spurious arguments to promote a change in policy that will make it harder for people to vote.

This is particularly important for young voters, renters and low-income families, who tend to move more often, and the elderly and the disabled, who might have difficulty overcoming limitations in mobility.

Mainers are rightly proud of our high level of voter participation. Our state has the third highest voter participation rate in the country, behind Minnesota and Wisconsin, which also allow voters to register on Election Day.

For as long as I can remember, politicians, political parties and numerous civic-minded groups agree on the importance of voter participation and encourage people to turn out on Election Day. And with new technology, no-fault absentee ballots, easier registration and other election reforms, we have opened the curtains of the voting booth and extended the franchise.

Killing same-day registration and voting will not prevent voter fraud, make life easier for municipal officials or improve our elections. It just makes it more difficult to vote.

Returning to the Constitution, government is granted its powers from the people and instituted for their benefit. Making it harder to vote doesn’t serve the people, instead it serves the narrow — and questionable — political interest of voter suppression.

David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.

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