March 24, 2018
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No on Question 1 is common sense

By Lance Dutson, Special to the BDN

Question 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot is a people’s veto. It seeks to overturn the minimal and much needed changes to Maine’s election laws enacted by the Legislature this last session.

Maine’s voter registration system is lax, error-prone and woefully unsecure. We have an extraordinarily high clerical error rate, noncitizens registered to vote and a large number of voters registered in two states. One case is one too many and voting no is a common sense approach to help secure our elections.

When a voter registers on Election Day, there simply isn’t time to verify his identity or residency status. As former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said on WGAN radio last week, “If you hang around a town office on Election Day, they’re not going to be inspecting voter registrations.” That’s a problem.

The current Secretary of State, Charlie Summers, said essentially the same thing. Clerks need more time to verify new voters.

Most states understand this problem and have begun to address it. Forty-one other states do not allow Election Day voter registration — that’s 93 percent of the population. These states include “blue” states such as California, New York and Massachusetts. Why have they not been charged with trying to “suppress the vote” and “disenfranchise” voters? The answer lies in their realistic response to identified vulnerabilities while trying to protect what is the foundation of our democracy — secure elections.

It is surprising the Bangor Daily News believes we should overturn this minor safeguard and continue with the current system. However, the editorial did show a lack of understanding of the issue and distorted facts in an attempt to influence the reader.

The BDN’s points for keeping the current system in question:

Increased voter turnout? No. Contrary to the editorial, Election Day registration has minimal impact on voter turnout in Maine. We are at roughly the same level now as we were before Election Day registration was enacted some 38 years ago. The two lowest voter turnout years, however, have occurred since Election Day registration has been in place.

Previously registered voters purged from registrars and turned away on Election Day? First, this does not happen as often as the BDN makes it appear and second, the law addresses such cases. Should this scenario occur, an unregistered voter is still allowed to vote with a provisional ballot, which is verified following the closure of the polls. Disenfranchisement thwarted.

Towns with short business hours make it difficult to register? Voters can register at any time by mail, at any Bureau of Motor Vehicles or at any social service agency. Additionally, given the costs associated (those willing to give their lives to uphold the Constitution and its amendments) with keeping our right to vote, should convenience really be discussed?

No more one-stop registration and voting? False. We will continue to have same-day voter registration, just not on Election Day. First-time voters, including elderly, students and low-income as mentioned in the editorial can register and vote early by mail or at the town office — in one stop.

There’s a political agenda? This is where the BDN draws another erroneous conclusion. The facts reveal that in 2010, essentially the same number of Republicans as Democrats registered to vote on Election Day. Most of the registrants were unenrolled, and based on the political climate of 2010, were likely heavily involved in the tea party movement. Each year is different and neither party benefits more directly from upholding the law.

The BDN also references the new electronic voter system which will hopefully soon be in place. This will reduce the vulnerability to fraud with ID scans and increased efficiency. We should view secure Election Day registration as a goal of a new system set to ensure the integrity of the voting process.

In order to overturn this law, one has to believe that Maine’s current registration and election system is adequate and secure. The facts reveal it is one of the most unsecure in the country, if not the worst. Whether we like it or not, the world is quickly changing and there is no good excuse for not addressing this problem immediately.

Changing Election Day registration in order to provide opportunity to verify a new voter’s legitimacy is just common sense. In California, clerks get two weeks; in Massachusetts, 20 days and New York, 25 days.

We’re only asking for two. If that makes sense to you, vote no on Question 1.

Lance Dutson is CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

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