No on 1 supporters say Election Day registration strains broken system

Bangor residents cast their votes early in October 2008. The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a group that is leading efforts to protect a new law that bans voter registration on Election Day, presented evidence Wednesday suggesting that same-day registration puts additional strain on an already broken system.
Bangor residents cast their votes early in October 2008. The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a group that is leading efforts to protect a new law that bans voter registration on Election Day, presented evidence Wednesday suggesting that same-day registration puts additional strain on an already broken system.
Posted Oct. 05, 2011, at 12:24 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 05, 2011, at 3:42 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The group leading efforts to protect a new law that bans voter registration on Election Day presented its case Wednesday that same-day registration has put strain on an already broken system.

Lance Dutson, CEO of the Portland-based Maine Heritage Policy Center, said Maine elections have been run on the honor system for decades and that hasn’t worked.

“Free and open elections are the cornerstone of our democracy and a free and open election is one where every vote counts and is not negated by votes cast fraudulently or in error,” Dutson said. “This report examines our current voting system, and identifies areas of concern and ways we can address them, because the people of Maine must be confident in the integrity of our electoral process.”

The conservative center is hoping to convince voters to vote no on Question 1 on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot, which reads: “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?”

Among the center’s findings were:

• In three of the last 10 general elections, there were more registered voters than voting-age citizens in Maine, but the statewide database failed to remove all duplicates.

• More than 2,200 active registered voters listed no street address.

• More than 1,450 registrants were listed as being more than 200 years old, a reflection of the default birthday that is assigned when a registrant leaves the date of birth blank.

Dutson said that although widespread fraud has not been seen in Maine, that doesn’t mean policy leaders should stop taking steps to reduce that possibility. Election Day registration, he said, simply does not give municipal officials enough time to correct problems before a vote is cast.

“Election Day registration, while not practical now, is a laudable goal for Maine,” Dutson said. “It’s a good goal to work towards, but first we need to implement a stronger and safer voting structure. Election Day registration should not be allowed until we can address the many inadequacies in our voting system.”

He also pointed out that Maine is one of only a handful of states that allows voters to register on Election Day. Maine also ranks among the top states for voter turnout, a fact supporters say can be attributed to same-day registration.

Dutson said eliminating Election Day registration is a good first step, but said more measures are needed, including requiring voters to present photo identification at their polling place in order to vote. That idea has traction with Republican lawmakers and a bill to implement that provision was held over from the last session and will be taken up again next year.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s report was released just two days after supporters of same-day registration released their own research that showed Election Day registration is one of the biggest tools for increasing voter turnout.

David Farmer, spokesman for Protect Maine Votes and the Yes on 1 campaign, said the critics of Election Day registration have yet to come up with a solid case for why it needs to be eliminated.

At first, Farmer said, it was about fraud, but no fraud has been proven. Then it was about easing the burden on municipal election officials, he said, but town clerks have largely said Election Day registration does not create more work for them.

“Now, they’re saying the system is broken, when the secretary of state presented a report to the Legislature in January that said the state’s central voter registration system has met and exceeded expectations,” Farmer said. “The bottom line is: Same-day voter registration works and has worked for nearly 40 years.”

Although the debate over same-day voter registration has grown increasingly partisan, in 2010, roughly the same number of Republicans and Democrats registered on Election Day. However, the biggest bloc of voters to register on Election Day was unenrolled voters, a group that often ends up deciding most of the outcomes.

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