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All parties foolish in hyperbolic voting debate

Posted Aug. 04, 2011, at 7:25 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 10, 2011, at 6:13 a.m.

Editor’s Note: The Bangor Daily News is pleased to welcome Matthew Gagnon to our opinion pages. A former staffer for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he will write a column every Friday. Mr. Gagnon runs the popular Pine Tree Politics Blog. Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine and well-known commenter on Maine and national politics, has also joined the pages. Her column will appear every other Wednesday. Washington Post columnists Charles Krauthammer and Dana Milbank will swap places, with Mr. Milbank now on Fridays and Mr. Krauthammer every Monday. Please let me know what you think of our changes at syoung@bangordailynews.com.

— Susan Young, editorial page editor

With due respect to everyone involved in the same-day voter registration squabble, you’re all getting on my nerves.

This debate has quickly devolved from what could have been an honest and needed conversation about a specific policy into an absurd and embarrassing hyperbole-fest that makes both sides look certifiably insane.

The moment same-day voter registration was repealed, we started hearing from a never-ending parade of outraged Democrats decrying the move as voter suppression. Pardon me for interjecting, but the existence of a poll tax was voter suppression. Jim Crow was voter suppression. Asking a person to register to vote a couple days prior to the election, as is done in 42 states, isn’t suppressing anyone’s right to vote.

And then there are the Republicans. The moment the people’s veto effort was launched, we began hearing from a similarly unending parade of outraged conservatives decrying voter fraud. Sure, fraud happens. Claiming only two cases of fraud happened in nearly four decades is foolish. That said, it isn’t some kind of epidemic that is de-legitimizing the system, and the specific claims made by the GOP have little to do with same-day registration anyway.

The self-righteous grandstanding has spiraled out of control, and both sides have long since missed their chance to make rational arguments. Don’t expect this fight to get any less absurd as time goes by.

Instead of all the engineered outrage, Democrats should have argued that same-day registration is convenient and we should keep it. Republicans should have said same-day registration is a pain for towns to deal with, most other states don’t do it and its repeal will not prevent anyone from voting. That is really all there is to this debate.

As for what I think, I would prefer it if fewer people voted. We have all been conditioned to assume that higher turnout is desirable and healthy when it often — as is the case with same-day registration — is not.

Maine allows voters to register to vote when they visit the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Maine has early voting. Maine has absentee voting. Indeed, Eliot Cutler blamed his election day loss on these very conveniences.

Maine has political parties and interest groups that call — repeatedly — to remind voters they need to vote. MTV likes to “Rock the Vote.” P. Diddy (is that still his name?) even launched a campaign called “Vote, or die!”

If you have somehow made it all the way to Election Day and have yet to participate, I worry about your ability to make informed decisions about who and what to vote for and have little sympathy for you if you find yourself unable to cast a ballot.

More important, had these voters to found themselves unable to vote on election day, they wouldn’t have had their right to vote taken away. They simply would have chosen not to participate. There’s a big difference, and I prefer such people aren’t badgered and dragged to the polls on election day by frantic activists.

The only people I want anywhere near a ballot box are those who have demonstrated they are actually invested enough in the process that they want to vote. That is the flaw with same-day voter registration: most of the people it serves are unengaged in the process.

I want the act of voting to be easy, but just hard enough that a voter has to actually want to vote to be able to do so. Asking someone to register two days ahead of time is not an unreasonable requirement, but such a system does mean you have to think about voting before you can actually vote. That is a good thing.

The 42 states in this country that do not allow same-day registration are not disenfranchising voters. They are not engaging in voter suppression. Neither will Maine.

The voter fraud argument is probably a red herring, but the arguments from the left are even less convincing, and this remains a good law which deserves to stand.

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at matthew.o.gagnon@gmail.com and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.

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