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Maine voting rule to go on ballot

Push to revive same-day signup

By Glenn Adams
Associated Press / June 24, 2011

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Several voter advocacy groups want Maine’s voters to decide in November whether the state should do away with a policy that allows them to register at the polls before casting ballots on Election Day.

The groups are outraged about a bill signed into law Tuesday by Governor Paul LePage, a Republican, to repeal same-day registration, saying it would dampen voter participation in a state that typically is a turnout leader during elections. In the last two elections alone, they say the law has enabled nearly 70,000 people to vote.

“We are organized, we are energized, and we are going to be successful’’ in a people’s veto effort, Ben Dudley, executive director of Engage Maine, said yesterday during a press conference with other coalition members representing women, civil libertarians, the homeless, disabled, young voters, and others.

The effort to reinstate same-day registration is one of at least three measures that are expected to appear on the fall referendum ballot.

LePage has vowed to veto a bill to allow slot machines in Biddeford and Washington County, and that action would send the citizen-initiated proposal to voters in November. Another initiated bill, which would allow casino gambling in Lewiston, is already destined for the fall ballot because it has been killed by lawmakers.

Maine had been among several states that allow prospective voters to register on Election Day.

But the bill to abolish the policy won legislative approval “because it a reasonable, measured approach to addressing a growing problem at polling places around the state: municipal election officials who lack the staff to accommodate the ever-increasing number of last-minute registrations and absentee ballots,’’ said House Speaker Robert Nutting, Republican of Oakland.

Nutting said the new law puts Maine among 42 other states without same-day registration, adding that he does not expect “this small change in the law would have any impact on voter turnout in the future.’’

The law pushed the registration deadline back three business days.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says seven states besides Maine — Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — also allow registration on Election Day. Two other states, Ohio and North Carolina, permit same-day registration on special early-voting days before the regular election, NCSL said.

League of Women Voters of Maine president Barbara McDade called same-day voting “a critically important issue that is fundamental to our democracy.’’ Collecting the required number of signatures, 57,277, by the Aug. 8 deadline in order to get it on this November’s ballot is no small task, but supporters said they’re up to the challenge.

Jesse Graham, executive director of the Maine People’s Alliance, said the activist group’s 32,000 members are being asked to help with the campaign. No campaign has come into view from the other side.

The alliance, which takes a strong interest in environmental and health policy issues, briefly flirted with the idea of leading a people’s veto campaign aimed at another law enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature, a health-care insurance overhaul. The alliance, saying it was concerned it would be outgunned financially in a campaign, said it will focus on changing the law in the Legislature.

Opponents of legislation can mount veto challenges by collecting signatures at least equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. Initiated bills have similar requirements. Proposed initiated questions then go to the Legislature, which can either pass them as proposed or kill them, which sends them to referendum.