CONTRIBUTORS

Yes on Question 1 upholds constitutional guarantees on voting

Posted Sept. 26, 2011, at 1:38 p.m.

For nearly 40 years, same-day voter registration has worked in Maine, helping our state to have one of the high participation rates in the country.

Same-day registration helps maintain the integrity of our elections by ensuring no one is accidentally removed from the voting rolls.

During the last two general elections, nearly 70,000 Mainers registered to vote on Election Day. Without same-day registration, those voters could have been turned away. And that’s one of the reasons why the Maine Town and City Clerk’s Association opposes the repeal of same-day registration.

But opponents same-day registration are determined to use any argument and play on any fear to make sure they win in November.

Sometimes, the subtle differences in language can create confusion. On occasion, we are all guilty of using the wrong “your” or “there,” or “misunderestimating” the complicated nuance of language.

But it seems that some of my Republican colleagues in the Legislature are either unaware — or willfully ignorant — of the difference between being a resident and being a citizen.

In the Sept. 21 Bangor Daily News, Rep. Doug Damon attacked U.S. citizens for having the audacity to vote in Maine while attending college here. Comments from Rep. Damon and other opponents of same-day voter registration imply that being a resident of Maine requires some sort of oath or long-term commitment. But it doesn’t.

They are either willfully or accidentally conflating the notions of citizen and resident. They find fault that 19 U.S. citizens, displaced from their college by Hurricane Ivan and attending school at Saint Joseph’s College, would vote in Maine elections.

As U.S. citizens, they are entitled to vote. And as the Supreme Court has ruled, they are entitled to vote where they are attending school.

Maine law requires that a person be a resident for the purposes of voting, but the standard for residency in election law boils down to a simple question. Do you live in Maine?

There’s no oath or time limit attached. To be a resident of Maine and vote doesn’t require you to predict the future, to know where you’ll be living next week, month or year. To suggest otherwise, or to claim that someone who doesn’t intend to live forever in Maine is breaking the law for voting, is misleading and pits older residents of the state against new arrivals.

There has been a lot of noise from Republican Chairman Charlie Webster and now Rep. Damon insisting that students shouldn’t be allowed to vote, that they are lesser than other residents of Maine and somehow deserving of fewer rights. It has been implied that because they might one day leave the state, students aren’t really Maine residents while they are here.

Each year thousands of students from other places come to school in Maine. They live, work and pay taxes here. They contribute to their communities. After graduation, many of these students will make Maine their home and others will move away. In no way does the decision they might make in the future change the rights they have as U.S. citizens on election day.

It seems to me that Rep. Damon’s issue isn’t with the 19 students who came to Maine to go to school when theirs was destroyed by a hurricane, or even with same-day registration. It’s really with the 24th and 26th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The 24th Amendment says that a citizen can’t be denied the right to vote for failure to pay a poll tax or other tax, and the 26th Amendment allows 18-year-olds to vote.

Rep. Damon and I agree on many issues. We agree that all legal residents have the right to vote, but clearly disagree on how to vote on Question 1 this November. A “yes” vote on Question 1 will ensure that Maine follows the 24th and 26th amendments and that all legal residents will be able to participate in the democratic process of voting.

Same-day registration has helped thousands of Mainers vote. It’s a law that works, and it’s a law that should be restored with a “yes” vote on Question 1 in November.

Adam Goode is a Democrat and represents House District 15, part of Bangor, in the Legislature.

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