Effort to create early voting system dies in Maine House

Posted June 19, 2013, at 7:51 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — An effort to set up an early voting system in Maine died in the Maine House on Wednesday afternoon.

The measure failed to garner the two-thirds support it needed in the House to send a question to voters asking them to amend the state constitution to allow towns and cities to set up early voting. The Senate approved the measure last month, meeting the two-thirds threshold needed to send a constitutional amendment resolution to voters.

Maine residents who wish to vote early now do so by completing absentee ballots, which are sealed in envelopes that the voter signs. Those envelopes are held at a municipal clerk’s office until Election Day, when poll workers place them in ballot boxes or voting machines.

The amendment would have authorized a system through which residents who vote early could place their ballots directly into a ballot box or voting machine rather than seal them in signed envelopes and submit them to a municipal clerk.

The bill, LD 156, started out as a proposal that would require the Legislature to set up a statewide early voting system if voters supported the constitutional amendment. The amended version would allow towns and cities that choose to do so to set up early voting.

Democratic supporters said an early voting system would alleviate administrative burdens at municipal offices while Republican opponents said they worried that increased early voting would happen in Maine’s largest cities and have the effect of diminishing the influence of the state’s small towns.

The proposal for an early voting constitutional amendment comes as more Mainers are casting absentee ballots in advance of Election Day.

Maine switched to “no excuse” absentee balloting in 2000, which removed requirements that voters provide a reason when asking to vote as early as three months in advance by absentee ballot. Since then, the number of absentee ballots cast has grown more than threefold.

The number of absentee ballots issued in 2000 (76,672) more than doubled for the 2004 presidential election (166,226), according to the secretary of state’s office. In 2008, the number of absentee ballots issued statewide soared to 243,992.

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