For democracy’s sake, keep voting easy

By Ann Luther, Special to the BDN
Posted Oct. 26, 2011, at 3:59 p.m.

Democracy works better when more people vote.

Civic-minded people of every political stripe endorse the idea that high voter turnout is good for our country and for our state.

This fundamental value has been at the core, underlying our country’s proud march to universal suffrage, and the American experiment in popular democracy has been a beacon of hope to freedom-loving people around the world.

Over two centuries, American people have moved forward and forward again to claim this democracy for their own, from the elimination of property qualifications for white men, through the abolition of suffrage qualifications based on race, to granting women the right to vote, outlawing poll taxes and literacy tests, and finally extending the franchise to anyone old enough to serve in our armed forces.

For nearly 40 years, same-day voter registration has worked in that same tradition, making it possible for thousands of Mainers to participate in elections.

Election Day registration is the single most effective practice that states can adopt to improve voter participation.

States with Election Day registration consistently outperform states without it, with voter participation rates between 5 percent and 10 percent higher.

If Maine has 1 million eligible voters, repealing Election Day registration could affect between 50,000 and 100,000 voters. If fewer people participate in Maine elections, that’s bad for everyone.

One argument made against Election Day registration is that it allows people to vote who are not eligible. There is absolutely no evidence that this is true. Your chance of getting struck by lightning is greater than your chance of finding this kind of voter fraud.

Our election officials in Maine are professional and capable, and every voter who registers, whether on Election Day or not, must prove to election officials that they are who they say they are and that they live where they say they live. Every prospective voter must swear that they are 18 years old and that they are citizens of the United States. The penalties for providing false information to election officials are significant.

Another argument made against Election Day registration is the claim that just because there is no evidence of voter fraud doesn’t mean that it’s not happening and that we need procedures to make sure that not one mistake slips through.

We could do that. But let’s look at the numbers. In order to prevent even one ineligible voter from slipping through, we would be denying the opportunity to vote to 50,000 citizens who are eligible.

Does that make sense in an inclusive democracy? Does that make sense in Maine?

The fact that 41 other states do not have Election Day registration is no reason to repeal it in Maine. Each one of those states trails Maine in voter participation. We lead. We’ve had Election Day registration for almost 40 years. It works. Why would we want to roll it back?

It is our duty as citizens and it is the duty of our government to make democracy work.

That means that we have a duty and an obligation to foster a culture of civic participation, a duty and an obligation to break down barriers to voting.

We are all diminished — our democracy is diminished — if we tolerate the abridgement of voting rights for a few. We must work vigilantly to protect not only our own rights but also the rights of all our fellow citizens. This is not a partisan issue. Maine citizens who believe in democracy — and who believe in their fellow citizens — want everyone’s voice to be heard through their vote.

Maine has had Election Day registration since 1973 and during the time since Maine has had both high voter turnout and high-integrity elections. Thanks in part to Election Day registration, Maine has one of the highest voter participation rates in the country. That’s something to be proud of. That’s part of who we are.

Let’s not turn back the clock on participatory democracy. Let’s not turn people away from the polls. Let’s win this fight. Vote Yes on Question 1.

Ann Luther of Trenton is a member of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of Maine.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/26/opinion/contributors/for-democracy%e2%80%99s-sake-keep-voting-easy/ printed on August 1, 2014