MCLU Working Hard to Protect Mainers' Right to Vote

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
October 30, 2008 12:00 am

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PORTLAND – The Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation today announced it would have legal help available for Maine residents who may face challenges at the polls on Election Day, Nov. 4.

“We are particularly concerned about members of vulnerable populations, such as the homeless and disabled voters, who may face additional hurdles in exercising their Constitutional right to cast a ballot,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the MCLU. “We do not want people excluded from voting because they are given incorrect information on Maine voting law.”

People experiencing homelessness can face significant challenges casting a ballot. Maine law specifically permits the use of a non-traditional address such as a homeless shelter, or Deering Oaks Park. MCLU is in contact with advocates for the homeless around the state, who have been helping their clients register to vote. In some recent cases, misinformation has been provided by local officials to advocates seeking to register people experiencing homelessness. MCLU will use its legal resources to make sure that help is available if questions arise on Election Day.

“Due to the high voter turnouts and long lines expected on Election Day, we are concerned about last minute confusion or misinformation that causes people to lose their chance to vote,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the MCLU. “We want to prevent that from happening.”

Maine law allows Election Day registration. Felons, as well as those who are presently incarcerated, are permitted to vote. Other groups that may face obstacles to last minute registration include college students, who may face challenges in proving their residency in the town where they go to school. Maine law allows students to vote in the town where they are residing while going to college.

Other provisions in Maine election law protect the rights of people with physical disabilities to have assistance in voting. People with disabilities, such as blindness, or those who are unable to read to write are allowed to bring a person with them to assist in the voting process.

Many of the provisions that define the franchise in Maine law are guaranteed in the state Constitution, and cannot be abridged simply by actions of the Legislature. The Maine Constitution is expansive in its interpretation of the right to vote. In the last legislative session the MCLU and a coalition of voting rights groups successfully lobbied against proposals that sought to restrict the rights of prisoners and students to vote.

“In Maine we should be exceptionally proud that our State Constitution is not as restrictive as those of some other states that burden the right to vote with various requirements,” said Shenna Bellows. “The MCLU will always resist any attempt to restrict voting rights, and we will work to make sure people can exercise those rights in this election.”

Voters who encounter problems or have voting questions on Election Day should call the MCLU office at 774-5444, where legal help will be available between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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