Citizens rise up in Maine

August 14, 2011

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AT LEAST 68,000 Maine residents signed a petition to repeal a recent law that prohibited Election Day voter registration. That should be more than enough to certify a November referendum, finally resolving a dispute that has turned Maine’s nearly four-decade tradition of allowing voters to register on Election Day into one of the most heated battles in the national war over the ballot box.

Maine has much to be proud of in its voting laws. The state managed to register 60,000 new voters on Election Day in 2010 - and the only claims of voter fraud were specious. Along with Minnesota and Wisconsin, both of which also had same-day registration, Maine ranked well above the national average in voter turnout. But this year, Maine’s new Republican-led House and Senate voted to get rid of same-day registration, and the state’s new Republican governor, Paul LePage, was more than eager to oblige.

In over 34 states, more restrictive voting rules are being proposed or enacted, in most cases by newly elected Republican majorities in the legislatures. These laws disproportionately limit the access of young, low-income, and minority voters, all Democratic constituencies. The most common and best publicized are laws requiring government-issue photo IDs. But the assault on more efficient and accessible voting is taking many forms, including Maine’s ban on same-day registration.

Access to voting is the mainstay of democracy. Having failed to win in the legislature, Maine residents are now bypassing their representatives, going straight to their neighbors, and waging a “citizen’s veto.’’ The citizens of Maine - those who are able to register, at least - should overturn this unjustified, politically motivated attack on a long-established voting rule.