Report Reflects Public’s Overwhelming Call To Protect Access to Voting
February 5, 2013
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Augusta – The ACLU of Maine and the League of Women Voters of Maine (LWVME) welcomed several recommendations in a new report from the Commission to Study Maine Election Laws that would protect access to voting. Before issuing the report, the Commission held a series of eight public hearings, all of which were attended by members of the ACLU of Maine and the LWVME.
Responding to hundreds of public comments, the Commission came out in full support of same day voter registration and true early voting, and recommended against adopting voter ID requirements.
"On the vital questions of supporting same day voter registration, creating a true early voting system and opposing voter ID, the voice of the people came through loud and clear," said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. "We hope that this report will end years of controversy over restricting ballot access in Maine."
The ACLU of Maine and the LWVME were leaders in the successful referendum campaign to restore same day registration in 2011 and headed up opposition to proposed voter ID requirements, which were successfully defeated in the last legislature. Both groups have endorsed true early voting, which would require an amendment to the Maine Constitution. Early voting differs from in-person absentee voting, which is already in place in Maine, because ballots are cast immediately rather than being held aside to be cast by a clerk on Election Day. The legislature is expected to take up early voting this session with a bill proposed by Rep. Mike Shaw (D-Standish).
"We are thrilled that the Commission not only rejected voter ID, but also endorsed expanding voting rights through Election Day registration and true early voting," said Ann Luther of the LWVME. "These steps are vital to increasing ballot access and ensuring that the people of Maine are truly represented."
The groups did take issue with the report's recommendations to make changes regarding voting by college students, including adopting a controversial registration form used in New Hampshire that is currently being challenged in court. The groups pointed out that these recommendations could have the effect of keeping students away from the polls and were not in line with the majority of members of the public who testified at the statewide public hearings.
"Our priority should be making sure that early voting experiences are welcoming ones and that new voters will be excited and interested to do it again the next time. Maine should not be in the business of discouraging college students from voting," said Bellows. "Unfortunately, the Commission's recommendations addressing voting by college students disregard the concerns of many young people who say they felt chilled and harassed for exercising their right to vote in 2011."
In 2011, then-Secretary of State Charles Summers threatened to pursue investigations into college students' motor vehicle records and to take legal action against students exercising their legal right to vote. While Secretary Summers uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing, his actions had the unfortunate outcome of intimidating many college students into unnecessarily cancelling their voter registration. Unfortunately, the Commission report did not recommend steps to reverse this intimidation.
"The best way to prepare citizens for meaningful civic participation is to engage them in voting from an early age," said Luther. "We should be finding ways to encourage more students – not fewer – to exercise their fundamental right to vote."