Curtailing our right to vote

By Bill Diamond
State Senator, D - Windham

Traditionally, Maine has among the highest voter turnout in the nation. Before I was a state senator, I had the honor of being Maine’s Secretary of State, which oversees elections, and I was very proud of Maine’s high voter participation numbers. One of the reasons we have such high turnout is that Maine makes it relatively convenient to exercise our right to vote.

Now this is under attack.

LD 1376 seeks to end voter registration on Election Day and put major restrictions on absentee voting. Election day registration — the ability to go to the polls on Election Day and register to vote then and there — is a key element in high voter turnout. The five states that had the highest rates of voter participation in 2008 all allowed people to register on election day, and experts estimate that it adds between 5% and 15% to the turnout numbers. In 2008 over 60,000 people registered to vote on Election Day. We have done this for almost 40 years without difficulty, and it mystifies me as to why people would want to change that.

And yet they do. In an almost party line vote in both bodies at the legislature, this serious erosion of our rights passed in its initial votes and looks like LD 1376 will be enacted. To me the most frustrating part of this is that the bill seeks to eliminate a non-existent problem. If there were rampant voter fraud resulting from Election Day registration, then I could see the point, but statistics on fraud have been minimal. There have been two cases of voter fraud in Maine in the last 30 years. I don’t call this sufficient reason to shut the door on people who, for whatever reason, don’t register to vote until Election Day.

Another reason given for this proposed change is that municipal clerks are overwhelmed by people registering in addition to the normal demands of Election Day. First of all, if this were the case, then the clerks would know that election days are very busy and they should plan accordingly and bring in extra help if it is needed, but this, too, is apparently not a problem. When the public hearing on this bill was held, not one town clerk has testified that registering people to vote on Election Day is a burden.

There are many reasons why people register to vote on Election Day. Many are young voters, seeking to exercise their right for the first time. Others are people who have just moved to a new town. Still others are our elderly parents or grandparents who might have moved into a retirement home in a new community. Then, there are the busy parents with kids and hectic daily routines. None of these people should be denied their right to vote.

Placing barriers to the voting booth diminishes the importance of democracy. The Constitution is a living document that is meant to be immune to political influence. Unfortunately, those who are trying to prevent people from registering to vote on Election Day will be literally stopping thousands of people at the polls on Election Day saying “stop — we’ve changed the rules — you can’t vote.”

We all know that every vote really does count, and I am very sorry to say that if this law passes there will be a lot fewer people voting in Maine after it goes into effect.

If you would like to get in touch with me you can call my office at the State House at 287-1515 or visit my website at www.mainesenate.org/diamond to send me an e-mail. I’m always glad to hear from you.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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