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Maine's Battle Over Voter Registration

As the presidential election draws closer and many states hold their midterm elections this month, voter identification and registration has once again become a hotly contested issue. Not even the state of Maine has escaped this controversy, as same day voter registration is the controversial first question on the ballot.

Because many Mainers are unfamiliar with the background of the question, there is confusion over what a yes or no vote means.

The question reads:

Do you want to reject the section of Chapter 399 of the Public Laws of 2011 that requires new voters to register to vote at least two business days prior to an election?

A ‘yes’ vote means repealing a law requiring voters to register before they go to the polls. It means people could register and vote all in one trip to the polls.

A ‘no’ vote means that the voter wishes to uphold the bill and wants to require Maine voters to register to vote before they go to the polls on election day.

Clearly, the wording of the question is confusing, especially if you don’t know what Chapter 399 of the Public Laws of 2011 is. In June of this year, Governor Paul LePage signed An Act to Preserve the Integrity of the Voter Registration and Election Process. This updated Maine’s registration law so that mail registration must be mailed 21 business days before the election and in person registration must be done at least 3 business days before the election. Mainers who were angry with this change of policy enacted a petition that gained enough signatures to force Question 1 onto the state ballot.

Now that it is there, the pressure to influence voters is high. Groups who want same day voter registration to continue are campaigning on the usual line- If same day voter registration is vetoed, people won’t vote, especially the lower classes. They have also been pressuring students to vote yes on Question 1, claiming that it helps ensure their voice be heard.

Opponents to same day voter registration are crying foul- their argument is the same for those who advocate the mandatory use of voter ID- reducing the risk of fraud. Obviously, same day voter registration eliminates verification of identity before voting, making it much easier for illegal immigrants to vote and much easier for people to assume identities that are not theirs.

This question is certainly the most contested question in the state and reflects a growing national conflict over voter security. In a day and age where identity theft is easy and at many polling places, identity verification is lax, many are calling for the use of voter ID. This has the possibility of taking on many forms-a drivers license, student ID, insurance card, etc. But opponents to such measures claim that this would lead to racial discrimination and would stop minorities and the low class from voting. Many scoff at this idea since required voter ID would mean all voters, regardless of race, would have to prove their identity.

The results of this ballot question will be interesting, as it may set a precedent for the issue of voter identification and registration on a national issue. Do voters believe the charges that same day voter registration leads to fraud? Or do they believe instead that same day voter registration is a great benefit to those without means to get around or have busy schedules and fraud is not important? Whatever the outcome, this is an important vote to watch as the national election, and questions of required voter ID come to a climax.

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