AUGUSTA, Maine — Unless a handful of representatives change their votes, a constitutional amendment to allow early voting in Maine elections likely won’t be sent for voter approval in November.
The measure was approved Thursday in the House of Representatives by a 92-56 vote, largely along party lines. That’s enough support to advance the bill through the legislative process, but short of the two-thirds necessary to give the final approval needed for constitutional amendments.
Maine already allows for early voting by absentee ballot, but the bill, LD 156, would allow voters to cast their ballots by showing up at their local polling place before Election Day. Each municipality would be allowed to opt out of conducting early voting.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, and has the support of the ACLU of Maine and Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, whose department is responsible for the administration of elections. It is opposed by the Maine Municipal Association.
Absentee votes are available for any reason up to three days before the election. When they are filled out and delivered back to the polling place, they are held until Election Day, when the ballots are cast by the polling official, usually a town or city clerk. Early voting would see the voters cast their ballots themselves at their local polling place.
Supporters of the effort say early voting would make it easier for Mainers to participate in elections by giving them more time and options to vote. They argue that true early voting would alleviate lines at the polls and make Election Day easier to manage for municipal clerks.
Expanded options for voting are needed in the 21st century economy, said Rep. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick, during debate in the House on Thursday. Flexibility for those working long hours or multiple jobs is necessary “until we make Election Day a federal holiday,” she said.
Opponents say the measure is unnecessary because Maine already provides opportunities for those who are unable to show up on Election Day.
Assistant House Minority Leader Alex Willette, R-Mapleton, said in an interview that allowing early voting for an unspecified amount of time — the bill is vague on how long before Election Day early voting would be allowed — could set the stage for unprecedented monthlong elections.
He also criticized giving additional responsibilities to towns without funding the initiative.
“This is just another thing we’re putting on these towns, without any additional revenue to do it,” he said. Republicans “are happy with the way things are going right now. We like the fact that people can already vote early via absentee ballot.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.