Contrary to what you may read, hear or see, the controversy surrounding referendum Question 1, the “people’s veto” of recently enacted changes to Maine’s voter registration requirements, is not and should not be a partisan issue. Nonetheless this is the story that many of those involved in the people’s veto would have you believe.
In reality, the 125th Legislature passed these changes in Maine’s voter registration requirements to ensure that your vote is protected and not diluted by votes cast by ineligible voters.
Your right to vote is guaranteed by our Constitution and voting is one of the most solemn responsibilities that you have as a citizen. It is fundamental to the premise that the people can govern themselves; this is the very basis of our form of government. As a citizen, you should ensure that you are registered to vote, understand the issues to be decided and vote in every election. Our government’s responsibility is to protect your vote by ensuring that only those who are eligible actually vote.
This was an easier task when our society was less mobile. People could quickly discern whether or not you were “from away” and your eligibility to vote could readily be determined.
Even today, in town meetings throughout the state, citizens and noncitizens are separated. A noncitizen must request permission to speak at the meeting and certainly cannot vote.
However, now in our highly mobile society, especially in the more populated towns and cities, it is increasingly more difficult for government to verify voting eligibility. Current law does not provide sufficient time to make this important determination. Consequently, as the limited data available suggests, ineligible voters, even those who are not United States citizens, have voted in our elections.
This happens now because all that is required to register to vote is a current bill with your name and address on it or a government check. Anyone can register and vote on Election Day with no time available for government to verify a person’s true identity and voting status.
Fair-minded people want every eligible and informed voter to vote. However, until a system is available to readily determine an individual’s eligibility to vote, we must provide our government with sufficient time to do so. Maine’s new requirements will allow municipal election clerks two business days before Election Day and should provide sufficient time for them to verify a voter’s eligibility.
Now, Maine and only seven other states allow Election Day registration. There is a reason that the other 42 states have more restrictive requirements and it is not because they are trying to prevent people from voting. Their purpose is to preserve the integrity of those votes that are cast by allowing sufficient time for verification of a voter’s eligibility to vote.
For example, New York requires citizens to register a full month before Election Day and in Massachusetts you cannot register to vote within 20 days of Election Day.
Despite words to the contrary, this change does not create any inconvenience for Maine citizens. Unless you move you only have to register once and if you do move you will still have around 240 days during the year to register. Furthermore, to those who say “Why worry, there have only been a few cases reported,” the data indicates that the problem is more prevalent than they suggest.
Even one vote cast by a person not eligible to vote is one too many. This is especially true given that we have had a number of state and local elections decided by fewer than 10 votes.
As Mainers, we pride ourselves on our consistently high voter turnout at the polls. This will not change under the new voter registration requirements. Make your vote truly count on Nov. 8 by voting no on Question 1.
Rep. Dennis Keschl, R- Belgrade, represents House District 83.