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Bangor Daily News : Guest Column by Secretary of State Charles E. Summers, Jr.
June 2, 2011

Ending Same-Day Registration Protects ‘Integrity of Maine’s Elections’

By Charles E. Summers, Jr.

I read with dismay the recent column, “Bill to end same-day voter registration a solution in search of a problem” by Shenna Bellows. It is unfortunate that she did not contact me to discuss her concerns with LD 1376 before submitting her views to the Bangor Daily News. A candid conversation on the subject could have allayed her concerns and provided an opportunity to better understand the importance of this proposal.

Maine has consistently ranked highly in voter turnout compared to Maine’s voting-age population. This has been true regardless of what laws existed concerning voter registration. For example, from 1960 to 1972 voter turnout in Maine for presidential elections ranged between 60.27 percent (1972) and 71.73 percent (1960). After the 1973 enactment of same-day voter registration, voter turnout ranged from 62.15 percent (1988) to 72.91 percent (1992).

It is clear that same-day registration has not had a significant effect on voter turnout in Maine. What has increased voter turnout is the Motor Voter Law enacted in 1990 allowing people to register to vote at Bureau of Motor Vehicles branches, which LD 1376 will not change.

Furthermore, I have never argued that this is a measure necessary to prevent voter fraud as Ms. Bellows asserts. In fact, I have stressed repeatedly that this bill has been designed to relieve some of the stress on the system. This bill simply gives municipal clerks some breathing room during this highly stressful period by pushing the deadline for absentee ballot requests and voter registration out just two business days earlier.

Also, the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association testified in favor of LD 1376 agreeing that changes relieving the stresses on the system would be welcomed. Upon questioning by members of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee they did state that if the bill were amended so that it only dealt with absentee balloting they would still be in favor of the legislation.

Over the years, I have heard from numerous town clerks expressing the difficulty they face during the days leading up to Election Day as they prepare for the election, register voters, process absentee ballots and see to their other municipal duties.

This bill is not a solution in search of a problem. It is a proactive step aimed at securing the integrity of Maine’s elections.

LD 1376 is a bill that treats everyone exactly the same way and to suggest, as Ms. Bellows did, that this bill is an attempt to gain an electoral advantage is extremely cynical. It merely reduces the number of days that Mainers can register to vote from 252 to 250 days. We have measures in place to accommodate those with extenuating circumstances by allowing people to register via mail or vote by absentee ballot for no reason.

As secretary of state, I have been charged with preserving the integrity of the voting process. My responsibility is to make sure every Mainer has full access to their sacred right to cast a ballot. LD 1376 will ensure that our election process remains one of the best in the nation and that all Maine citizens are afforded the right to vote.