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Petition drive launched to repeal law that bans Election Day voter registration

Posted July 08, 2011, at 1:58 p.m.
Last modified July 08, 2011, at 10:12 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A broad coalition of labor groups, community activists and volunteers from across the state on Friday launched a petition drive aimed at repealing a recent change in Maine law that bans voter registration on Election Day.

Just two days after Secretary of State Charles Summers approved the wording of the people’s veto question, supporters of the repeal gathered in Bangor, Lewiston and Portland to begin gathering more than 57,000 signatures.

The coalition of organizations also launched the formation of a political action committee, Protect Maine Voters.

Ann Luther, a member of the board of directors for the League of Women Voters of Maine, said same-day voter registration is one of the single-most important measures the state has instituted to improve voter turnout.

“Nothing, especially not government, should be getting in the way of our right to vote,” Luther said Friday afternoon at an event in Bangor.

Maine consistently ranks in the top five states for voter turnout and in the last two major November elections alone, 70,000 voters have registered on Election Day.

“Voting is fundamental to our democracy and a basic right of every citizen,” said campaign manager Mark Gray. “Maine’s elections are well-run, efficient and of the highest integrity. Our state has the third-highest voter participation rate in the country, only Wisconsin and Minnesota rank higher and in both states citizens have the right to register to vote on Election Day. We should be proud of that achievement instead of trying to undo it.”

LD 1376, sponsored by House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, passed through the House and Senate amid contentious debate and was signed by Gov. Paul LePage.

In addition to eliminating same-day voter registration, the legislation bans absentee voting two days before Election Day, although the people’s veto applies only to the portion that deals with Election Day registration.

Since 1973, Maine has allowed voters to register that same day they cast their vote.

The recent votes in the Legislature were largely along party lines and the law change is one of many wins cited by the newly elected Republican majority. Supporters said the changes would cut down on Election Day mistakes and relieve stress on municipal election officials.

Charlie Webster, chair of the Maine Republican Party, has been candid in recent comments alleging that same-day voter registration has allowed Democrats to steal elections. Critics have countered that there is no evidence of major voter fraud in Maine history.

If enough signatures are gathered by the Aug. 8 deadline, the following question will appear on the November ballot: “Do you want to reject the section of Chapter 399 of the Public Laws of 2011 that requires new voters to register to vote at least two business days prior to an election?”

Webster said Friday that he plans to wait and see how the signature gathering goes before he worries about forming a coalition to protect the new law.

“There is no groundswell for this other than from these liberal groups,” he said. “But, we’ ll be a key player if we have to.”

Ryan Tipping-Spitz with the Maine People’s Alliance said a month is not a lot of time to gather such a large number of signatures, but he said hundreds of volunteer gatherers have signed up already and will begin work this weekend.

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