AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine is on track to become the 18th state to establish an automatic voter registration system after Democrats pushed a measure backed by party leaders through the state Senate on Monday in the second consecutive party-line vote on the issue.
The upper chamber backed a bill from House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in a 19-14 vote. Only Democrats voted for it after another party-line vote in the House of Representatives last week. The measure faces further action in both chambers and would take effect in 2022.
Gideon’s bill is backed by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat whose office would administer the program through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. It will be similar to most automatic registration programs in the U.S., according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Under the bill, Mainers who aren’t registered to vote in their cities and towns would be registered when doing business with the motor vehicle bureau or other agencies that collect similar information unless they opt out. The Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office estimates that the bill would require $140,000 in one-time federal funds.
The policy is a new one that was only in effect in six states during the 2016 election. The liberal Brennan Center for Justice, which backs automatic voter registration laws, published a study earlier this year linking them to statistically significant registration increases ranging from 9 percent in Washington, D.C., to 94 percent in Georgia.
Dunlap’s office has supported it by calling it a more efficient way to register voters than the current municipal-based process. The progressive Maine People’s Alliance has said it would “modernize our election system” and help “continue our tradition of high turnout.”
It has been opposed consistently by Republicans in Maine. The conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center has said it would open elections to “potential fraud and abuse,” citing California’s mistaken addition of hundreds of voters to rolls reported on in 2018 by the Los Angeles Times.
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