Group aims to restore election day registration

Signature drive starts in Maine

By Glenn Adams
Associated Press / July 9, 2011

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AUGUSTA, Maine - A coalition of advocacy groups seeking to restore election day voter registration in Maine launched a signature-gathering effort yesterday in hope of forcing a referendum as early as November on the issue.

The newly formed Protect Maine Votes Political Action Committee held news conferences in Bangor, Lewiston, and Portland to kick off a voters’ signature collection drive, which organizers said will have a presence this weekend in 11 of Maine’s 16 counties. Using the people’s veto provision in the state Constitution, the organizers want to force a referendum on whether to repeal a law that was enacted during the late days of this year’s legislative session.

The new law says voters must be registered no later than two business days before an election. Supporters said many municipal election officials lack the staff to accommodate an ever-increasing number of last-minute registrations.

The issue has political overtones, as the new law to get rid of Maine’s same-day registration law won passage with support of the Republican majority and opposed by Democrats. To force a referendum in November, the coalition must collect a minimum of 57,277 voters’ signatures by Aug. 8.

If they fail to do that, the forces to restore same-day registration would still have until Sept. 27 to turn in the signatures for a referendum in June 2012. For now, coalition members are focused on November.

Coalition members, which include the Maine Civil Liberties Union, Maine League of Conservation Voters, League of Women Voters of Maine, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine People’s Alliance, EqualityMaine, Maine Education Association, and Homeless Voices for Justice among other organizations, say the revised law wipes out a 38-year tradition of election day registration that helps to keep Maine among the states with the highest turnouts.

While no opposition campaign has surfaced, Charles Webster, chairman of Maine’s Republican Party, said a coalition will be organized if the signature-gathering effort succeeds.

Webster also believes that same-day registration is not a priority issue for most Maine residents.

“It’s not an issue that working people, regular people, are concerned about,’’ he said.