Legislators, LePage registered to vote on or near Election Day, group says

Mainers register to vote in May 2011 at the Bangor City Hall.
Mainers register to vote in May 2011 at the Bangor City Hall.
Posted Sept. 27, 2011, at 9:24 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 27, 2011, at 5:09 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the coalition hoping to restore Election Day voter registration in Maine released a list of legislators who voted to eliminate same-day registration but registered to vote on or near Election Day themselves.

Protect Maine Votes put out the list of names Tuesday before a special legislative session in hopes that the Legislature might change its mind on same-day voter registration before the issue goes to a statewide vote in November.

“We’re asking these members to reconsider the elimination of same-day registration and the move of the registration deadline,” said David Farmer, communications director for Protect Maine Votes. “Same-day registration has worked for nearly 40 years, and it has worked for many of the people who voted to kill it. We would like for those lawmakers to consider their own circumstances and work to restore same-day registration during today’s special session.”

The Legislature, which passed a congressional redistricting plan and a bill further restricting sale and possession of the designer drug bath salts on Tuesday, opted not to take up Farmer’s suggestion.

The list of legislators released includes three state senators — among them Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry, a co-sponsor of the bill that eliminated same-day registration — and seven members of the House of Representatives.

One person on the list, Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls, said Protect Maine Votes got it wrong.

Mason said he registered a month before Election Day, but his registration didn’t get processed until the day before Election Day because he inadvertently left blank his date of birth. The clerk in his hometown caught the mistake and corrected it in time.

“I think my experience clearly demonstrates why we needed to change the law. It gives the clerks more time,” he said.

Same-day voter registration, which has been allowed for the last 38 years, was eliminated with the passage of LD 1376 in June. Both votes in the House and Senate fell sharply along party lines with Republicans supporting the ban and Democrats opposing it.

Since the bill’s passage, Protect Maine Votes has gathered the necessary signatures to force a statewide people’s veto in November. The change in law remains on hold pending the outcome of that vote.

On the list offered by Farmer, the legislators who voted to change Maine’s registration laws but who also registered on or shortly before Election Day include: Raye, Mason and Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, and Reps. Bernard Ayotte, Eleanor Espling, Amy Volk, Patrick Flood, David Richardson, David Johnson and Aaron Libby. All are Republicans.

In addition to numerous members of the House and Senate whose registration would not have been allowed under current law, Gov. Paul LePage, who signed the bill eliminating same-day registration, registered to vote in Waterville on the day before Election Day in 1982.

Several members of LePage’s senior staff also registered on or near Election Day, including his press secretary and legislative policy coordinator.

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, said LePage was simply following the law as it existed at the time, and said that critics of eliminating same-day voter registration are grasping by going back 30 years to look at the governor’s voting records.

Raye’s spokesman, Scott Fish, said the Senate president did register on Election Day in 2001 in accordance with the law.

“But to suggest that anyone who obeyed the law is a hypocrite if that law changes at some point in the future is just ludicrous,” Fish said.

Lance Dutson, head of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, registered on the Monday before Election Day in 2010. The conservative advocacy organization is one of the lead opponents of the people’s veto campaign and held events in Portland and Bangor last week advocating for a “no” vote in November.

“One of the primary arguments made for the repeal of same-day registration is that people who register late don’t care, are lazy or are ill-informed,” Farmer said. “We’ve heard that over and over from the other side. But the fact is, many of the state’s most influential leaders, including the governor, prominent leaders in the Legislature, candidates for public office and business leaders have registered to vote close to Election Day.”

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