Democracy in Action

By State Senator Bill Diamond

Since 1909, when the 31st Amendment to the Maine Constitution went into effect, Maine has had what is known as a “People’s Veto.” This allows the people of Maine to overturn a law enacted by the legislature through a direct vote on the issue. I feel that this is a great example of the kind of pure and open democracy that we pride ourselves on in Maine.

This week, I’m going to describe the people’s veto process, especially concerning how it relates to the recently announced campaign to overturn the bill ending Election Day voter registration.

Initiating a people’s veto is a difficult undertaking, as well it should be. After all, the legislature is elected to lead, and overturning their actions should not be taken lightly. People wishing to undertake a people’s veto have 10 days after the end of the legislative session when the law in question is enacted to notify the Secretary of State of their intent to block the law. They then have until 90 days after the end of the session to gather and verify petition signatures from 10% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election. That means that the organizations seeking to overturn the ban on Election Day registration will have approximately until the end of September to gather signatures from 57,277 registered Maine voters if they wish to put the matter before the people of Maine.

Once the Secretary of State has verified the signatures, then the question concerning whether the law should be kept or not goes before the people. The results for people’s vetoes is mixed in Maine, but history shows that those supporting the veto should have an advantage. Of the 29 times since 1909 that the people’s veto has been used, the law in question has been overturned 17 times and approved by the voters 12 times.

I am a supporter of the current people’s veto effort. I am strong believer that it should be as easy and convenient as possible for all those who can legally cast a ballot in the state of Maine to do so. Maine historically has among the highest voter participation rates in the country and I feel that the ability to register and vote on the same day is one of the major contributors to this. Over 60,000 new voters registered to vote on Election Day in 2008, and more than 20,000 last year (including more Republicans than Democrats), and all these people would be turned away under this new law. New voters will be not only disappointed, but disgusted to find out when they show up at the polls that had to register by 5 p.m. on the previous Thursday for their vote to count. The reasons for the change, fraud and overwork of municipal clerks, just don’t add up. There have been only two cases of voter fraud in Maine over the last 38 years, and not one town clerk showed up to testify in favor of the bill.

The effort to keep Election Day registration is supported by a broad coalition of organizations including the Maine League of Women Voters, the Maine League of Young Voters, the Disability Rights Center, the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine People’s Alliance, among others. I also feel that protecting our ability to vote is a perfect use of the people’s veto process, and, at the very least, anything that impedes our voting process should be voted on by the people.

For more information on the law in question, and the campaign to overturn it, you can visit the Maine League of Women Voters website at www.lwvme.org

Your opinion on this issue is important to me, so please call my office at 287-1515 or visit my website at www.mainesenate.org/diamond to send me an e-mail and let me know what you think.

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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