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Advocates of Maine’s same-day voter law deliver petitions

Coalition seeks to block new rule

By Glenn Adams
Associated Press / August 9, 2011

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AUGUSTA, Maine - Organizers of a campaign to restore Maine’s same-day voter registration system said yesterday that they have collected more signatures than needed for a statewide referendum asking voters to overturn a new law requiring registration at least two business days before an election.

The Protect Maine Votes coalition said it had delivered to the secretary of state’s office petitions signed by 68,064 registered voters, more than the 57,277 minimum due by this afternoon in order to get the question on the November ballot. The coalition, comprising 18 organizations and activist groups, plans to turn in additional signatures today, organizers said.

All of the signatures have been validated by town and city clerks, coalition leaders said. The secretary of state’s office has 30 days to review the petitions and decide whether to place the question on the ballot this fall.

The coalition started gathering signatures July 7, deploying more than 1,000 volunteers and reaching every legislative district in the state, said field director Ben Chin. If the group fails to meet the required number of certified signatures, it would have until Sept. 27 to add enough to qualify for the ballot next June.

The coalition says same-day registration promotes voter participation and democracy.

“Nothing should prevent eligible citizens from voting,’’ Barbara McDade, president of the League of Women Voters of Maine, told supporters gathered at the State House in Augusta yesterday for the coalition’s announcement. McDade said same-day registration was probably the biggest factor in putting Maine consistently among the states with the highest voter participation.

The coalition hopes to persuade voters to reject the law, passed this spring by the Legislature, that replaces Maine’s four-decade policy of allowing voters to sign up on the day of the election. The new law blocks registrations within two business days before an election.

Supporters of the new law said that if the issue goes to a referendum, voters will see during the campaign that the two-day buffer period is a common-sense improvement that will reduce election fraud.

“There is no support from the average person’’ for repealing the new law, said Charles Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party. “There’s no doubt in my mind that when voters find out more about this, they’ll agree with us.’’

The issue is politically charged. Last month, Webster said he had uncovered more than 200 cases of possible election fraud involving nonresident students in the state university system who had registered to vote in Maine last year. Webster believes such abuses are more likely to occur with same-day registrations.

No campaign has been organized to counter the people’s veto effort. Webster said the state GOP committee will take up the matter and decide whether to build a coalition to oppose the effort.

The new law takes effect Sept. 28, but would be suspended pending the referendum’s outcome if it is placed on the ballot.

Seven other states - Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming - allow same-day registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Two other states, Ohio and North Carolina, permit same-day registration on special early-voting days before the regular election, the organization said.