The citizens of Maine will be voting tomorrow whether to keep the same-day registration system that they’ve had for nearly four decades. Since 1973, Maine voters have been able to walk into a polling place or a municipal clerk’s office on Election Day and register to vote.
Despite the fact that same-day registration is good for turnout, Maine’s Republican-controlled legislature voted to end the practice this year, citing misplaced concerns with voter fraud and the stress it puts on city clerks. By voting “Yes” on Question 1 tomorrow, Maine voters have the opportunity to exercise the people’s veto and override the legislature’s efforts to make voting harder. The Maine Town and City Clerks Association endorsed Same-Day Registration and testified against its elimination.
Same-Day Registration isn't only about convenience for voters. It greatly impacts how many people turn out and vote. For one thing, same-day registration allows eligible voters who may have been mistakenly purged from the voting rolls to cast a meaningful ballot. It also compensates for early registration deadlines, which often make it impossible for people to vote if they didn’t register by some arbitrary date several weeks before the election. And because it’s often difficult to keep one’s address current with the clerks’ offices, same-day registration improves young and mobile voters' ability to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
In this May 2011 factsheet, Demos found that “[s]tates that allow for Same Day Registration consistently lead the nation in voter turnout.” Even as recently as the 2010 elections, states with same-day registration had voter turnout that was 6% higher than in states without it. And thanks to same-day registration, Maine consistently has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country.
The Maine legislature’s efforts to make voting harder are, unfortunately, part of a larger national trend. Maine citizens have the opportunity tomorrow to stand up to the politicians who are seeking to neutralize their rights. As the LA Times asked this morning, “Can't we all just vote?”