Voting Rights Lawsuit, Maine Groups Call on Governor Mills and Secretary of State Dunlap to Remove Barriers to Absentee Voting

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
September 21, 2020 8:30 am

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Today, the Kennebec County Superior Court will hold a hearing on the constitutionality of many aspects of Maine’s election system, including whether absentee ballots must be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day, and whether the government needs to cover the postage on absentee ballot envelopes.

The case was filed against Maine’s Secretary of State and Attorney General, to address election administration challenges specifically related to the COVID-19 crisis. The Trump campaign has intervened in the case to block any changes. The ACLU of Maine and Maine Conservation Voters have filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs.

The case is being heard before Justice William Stokes. Plaintiffs have asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction, and the court has agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis. In addition to COVID-19, the plaintiffs, as well as the ACLU and Maine Conservation Voters have raised concerns about the mismanagement crisis at the US Postal Service.

Parallel to the case, the ACLU of Maine, Maine Conservation Voters, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine People’s Alliance, RepresentUS and NextGen Maine, are calling on the Governor and Secretary of State to remove as many barriers to absentee voting as possible, by taking the following actions:

  • Direct municipalities to accept absentee ballots that are postmarked up until Election Day, not just those received by Election Day, so that voters won’t be stymied by President Trump’s Postmaster General’s attempts to suppress the vote by slowing down mail delivery.
  • Provide prepaid return postage for absentee ballots, so that Maine voters aren’t charged a de facto poll tax of the cost of postage in order to vote safely from home.
  • Remove the barriers to registering to vote by mail. These include the requirement that first-time voters submit a photocopy of their identification and the requirement that registrants sign their registration card. These requirements create undue barriers for those who don’t have access to a printer at home, especially when many libraries and other places to print remain closed.
  • Ensure that municipalities provide robust opportunities for residents to vote early, including by providing ballot dropboxes.

The comments below can be attributed as noted:

Zach Heiden, Chief Counsel, ACLU of Maine: “The Maine Constitution guarantees the right to vote safely. In the midst of a global pandemic and a management crisis at the US Postal Service, the practices that have served this state so well in the past are no longer enough. The court has an opportunity here to make sure that all eligible voters are able to register and vote with as little difficulty as possible.”

Beth Ahearn, Director of Government Affairs, Maine Conservation Voters: “As Maine looks to tackle climate change with an ambitious climate action plan, it also needs to ensure that its election systems are resilient and able to meet the challenges of the days ahead. Governor Mills and Secretary of State Dunlap have taken steps to make it easier for every Mainer to vote safely and securely this November but more needs to be done. They have the authority to direct municipalities to accept absentee ballots that are postmarked up until Election Day, not just those received by Election Day, ensuring that all Mainers have a chance to have their vote counted.”

Julian Snow, State Director, NextGen Maine: “Young voters’ ballot access has been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, due to Maine’s lack of an online voter registration option. Maine, with our large college student population and proud culture of civic participation, should be leading the nation in closing the age gap in ballot access. Instead, we’re being embarrassingly outpaced by the rest of the country, including traditionally conservative states like Georgia, which has extended the deadline for residents to return absentee ballots, and Louisiana, which has expanded both mail-in and early voting this year. This is the most important election of young Mainers’ lives. We need Governor Mills and Secretary of State Dunlap to step up and take action to ensure that every voter can make their voice heard in November.”

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