On November 8, the voters of Maine will decide if they are going to veto the legislature’s decision to end “same day register and vote” in Maine.
After three decades of defeat, Maine’s Republicans finally passed a law ending the right of voters to register on Election Day. In Maine, the “justification” for the two-day no-registration period before elections is the combination of anger at out-of-state students who suddenly realize there’s a presidential election and want to vote, but don’t have time to get an absentee ballot from home, and the rampant Republican paranoia about “voter fraud,” which in the case, they cover up with a depiction of same-day registration creating “mayhem and chaos” on Election Day as poll workers get distracted registering people. Republican State Chairman Charles Webster says this practice is like to permit “a small measure of mistakes” in registrations.
Webster denies there is anything that even remotely resembles a co-ordinated effort by the Republican Party to limit voting. He insists Maine did this entirely on its own. The perception of collusion is a difficult one to shake when every Republican controlled state legislature has passed at least one law that restricts access to the polls in some way, and when restricting voting rights is part of the platform of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) a billionaire-funded conservative “think tank” that has been linked to many Republican politicians and specific bills they have proposed.
Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, legislatures have enacted laws to make voting easier and more accessible, laws like motor-voter registration, being able to vote up to a month before Election Day, easier access to absentee ballots, the ability to register at the mall, a removal of any hoop any voter had to jump through.
In the name of preventing an “epidemic” of voter fraud that all investigations say does not exist, the legislatures in 13 states introduced bills this year to end same-day registration, limit registration efforts by organizations like the League of Women Voters and/or reduce registration opportunities. The most egregious was Wisconsin, where a photo ID to vote law was topped off with a decision to close DMV offices in mostly-Democratic districts. In Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia laws have been enacted to reduce early voting periods. States have enacted laws requiring a birth certificate or naturalization papers to register, something that has not been required in this country in living memory. The days of ballot box stuffing and voting for the dead and precinct bosses is long over, but not in the minds of the right wing. They insist that President Obama was elected because illegal immigrants voted for him.
Maine was also one of the 34 states to consider a photo ID law for voting. That debate was held over for the next session in 2012. A Brennan Center study, released last week, estimates that the new restrictions could disenfranchise as many as five million eligible voters. In Maine alone, it could be as high as 60,000. Same day registration is very popular in national elections among people who travel for work, work long hours a distance from home or who show up to vote and somebody has screwed up the voter rolls. There is no proof that any of the 60,000 same-day registers in Maine in 2008 voted in any race they should not have – like voting for a city council in a town they don’t live in. Michael Waldman of the Center said the push to restrict voting rights is “the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades,” and will cost more voters their opportunity to cast ballots than the number of votes that determined the close elections in 2000 and 2006.
In Maine, the voters decided to fight back, and got the reversal referendum put on this year’s ballot. The Republican campaign to retain the anti-same-day-registration law stresses the non-existent voter fraud, while the Democratic campaign places its emphasis on the lack of any proof of voter fraud and the inconvenience this law will create for honest Mainiacs. Maine’s Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers avers that even though his office found no proof of fraud, he saw “enough evidence” to convince him that municipal clerks need that 48-hour period to review registrations and it is a “very, very reasonable, moderate step.”
Hopefully, November 8th will be the first of many reversals of these laws that seek to reduce the number of Democrats who vote in 2012 and beyond. If the Republican Party is so freaking sure that they have the best ideas for America, they should just sell them to the electorate instead of working so hard to prevent opposition voting.