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Portland Press Herald : Maine Voices Column by Secretary of State Charles E. Summers, Jr.
June 13, 2011

Maine Voices: New Registration Law Will Not Make It More Difficult to Vote

There are a number of convenient ways to qualify for the franchise that are available to any citizen.

AUGUSTA - I would like to respond to the recent column, "Legislature should not revoke Mainers' voting rights" by Sarah Standiford of the Maine Women's Lobby, regarding L.D. 1376, "An Act To Preserve the Integrity of the Voter Registration and Election Process."

The new law now prohibits registering to vote on Election Day or within two business days prior to that day.

Ms. Standiford argued that many people would be disenfranchised because their circumstances do not allow them to register to vote before 5 p.m. on the Thursday prior to Election Day, as the new law requires.

Let me address her concerns point by point and explain the different registration options available to Maine voters.

• Ms. Standiford has expressed concern about our men and women in the military who, upon returning from deployment, may not have time to register to vote.

This assertion is incorrect, because L.D. 1376 does not apply to any uniformed service members.

The bill states that "uniformed service voters or overseas voters may register or enroll at any time by completing a federal or state voter registration application form and filing it with the registrar or the Secretary of State in person, by mail or by electronic means authorized by the Secretary of State."

• Those who move frequently, another group Ms. Standiford fears could be disenfranchised, have a couple of options.

If they move within the same municipality they will be able to update their address on Election Day even if their polling place has changed due to the move. Or, if they move to a new municipality after the Thursday before Election Day, they may vote by absentee ballot in their previous town of residence during the 30 to 45 days leading up to the election.

Additionally, when a person moves within the state of Maine, they have 30 days to update their driver's license with their new address.

This requires a visit to one of the 13 Bureau of Motor Vehicle branches where anyone can register to vote thanks to the Motor Voter Law enacted in 1990.

• Mainers may also register at any social service agency affiliated with the Department of Health and Human Services.

And many others may find it convenient to register at any town office when they go to buy a fish and game license, register a vehicle, pay taxes or license their dogs.

• There are many fears that the elderly will have more difficulty voting. This is simply not the case.

Maine law requires municipal clerks to visit all licensed nursing homes and residential care facilities in their municipality during the 30 days before Election Day.

These visits allow residents the opportunity to register and cast an absentee ballot.

• As for the young people in our state, efforts are made to ensure they also have ample opportunity to register. Each fall the Division of Elections provides voter registration applications to high schools so that all 17- and 18-year-old students can register to vote.

A 17-year-old may pre-register to vote even if they turn 18 on Election Day.

Furthermore, preceding every General Election, voter information packets are sent to all colleges and universities explaining how to conduct registration drives on campus.

• I have also heard from those who worry that voters who are disabled, have demanding work schedules, are raising children, or are otherwise unable to make it to the registrar by the preceding Thursday will be disenfranchised if they cannot register on Election Day.

Fortunately, in Maine any eligible voter can register via mail by requesting an application from their municipal office.

As long as the registrar receives their application (if returned by mail) at least 3 weeks prior to Election Day, they will be able to vote at the polls or by absentee ballot.

Only seven other states have same-day voter registration. In fact, five of the top 10 states with the highest voter turnout do not allow same-day voter registration.

Even by adjusting the registration deadline by two business days, Maine will still be one of the most progressive states in regards to election laws (in New York voter registration closes an entire month prior to Election Day and in Massachusetts the deadline is 20 days before all elections).

Moving the registration deadline back just two business days to reduce the stress on the municipal clerks is an important and necessary measure to ensure the integrity of the voting process.

I agree with Ms. Standiford that Mainers should be proud of our "tradition of civic engagement" -- and I am confident this tradition will continue for years to come.