AUGUSTA — Two recent polls point to a close vote on Question 1, a referendum that asks Mainers whether they want to reject a state law that bans election-day voter registration.
Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina firm, released results Wednesday that showed the yes side leading 48-44 percent, with 7 percent undecided. A Critical Insights poll released last week showed 51 percent voting yes, 43 percent no, and 6 percent undecided.
Supporters of Question 1 got a boost Wednesday when former Senate Majority Leader and Special Envoy George Mitchell endorsed the Yes on 1 campaign.
Both sides said they expect a very close race.
“It’s obviously a close race and getting closer,” said Jen Webber, a spokeswoman for the No on 1 campaign. “We’re getting our message out and we’re gaining traction.”
David Farmer, spokesman for Yes on 1, cautioned against interpreting the poll results as an indication of a drop in their level of support.
“You can’t say we were 51 percent last week and 48 percent this week,” he said.
“The polls are different. The yes campaign is in the lead and we’ve been consistently in the lead in the polls.”
The PPP poll surveyed 673 Mainers from Oct. 28 to 31 and has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points. It was conducted by automated telephone interviews and the firm is considered a Democratic polling company.
Critical Insights, based in Portland, completed 600 phone interviews between Oct. 18 and 23 and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Like all close elections, this one will come down to which side does a better job getting supporters to the polls.
That’s especially important in an off-year election when there are no major candidates on the statewide ballot.
The No on 1 campaign faced a setback earlier this week when the staff at the ethics commission levied a $3,251 fine because they missed a filing deadline by two days.
“That was an error on our part,” Webber said. “We’re not planning on contesting it.”
The question is on the ballot because Democratic-leaning groups such as the Maine People’s Alliance gathered the signatures necessary to call for a people’s veto vote on a law passed earlier this year by the Legislature. Supported mostly by Republicans, the law ends the state’s nearly 40-year-old practice of allowing people to register and vote on election day.
Mitchell said yesterday that same-day voter registration helps citizens to vote, and democracy is stronger when more people participate. In his statement, the former Democratic senator said same-day voter registration is part of the reason that Maine is a national leader in voter participation.
The bill was heavily lobbied by Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster, who said clerks in the college town of Farmington had problems keeping up with new registrations from students who showed up to vote. Clerks didn’t often have enough time to properly ensure that the students were Maine residents, he said.
“We need to secure Maine elections better,” Webber said. “They are woefully unsecure right now, error prone and lax.”
No on 1’s Webber pointed out 41 other states require waiting periods before allowing newly registered people to vote.
Yet supporters of election day registration say there is no evidence of fraud and that it has contributed to the state’s traditionally high voter turnout.
“Same day voter registration in Maine has worked for 40 years,” Farmer said. “Democracy is healthier when more people are able to participate.”
Susan Cover — 620-7015