AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would establish a system of true early voting in Maine.
However, the proposal will need further action in the House before it goes to the state’s voters for approval.
L.D. 156, sponsored by Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, would change the Maine Constitution to give cities and towns the option of allowing in-person voting before scheduled election days. The change would require voters’ approval in a statewide referendum.
The bill passed 24-11 in the Senate on Tuesday, getting the two-thirds support needed in that chamber to begin the process of amending the Constitution.
But proposed constitutional amendments go to the voters only if they get two-thirds majorities in both chambers, and the bill fell short of two-thirds in the House in an initial vote Monday.
The vote was 90-50, with 11 legislators absent for the vote, including eight Democrats. No Democrats voted against the bill in the House, while only five Republicans voted for it.
The bill now faces further action in the House.
Maine is one of 27 states that already allow no-excuse absentee voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Except for two pilot programs, all early voting in Maine to date has been done by absentee ballot.
The two pilot programs — in a handful of cities and towns in 2007 and 2009 — drew rave reviews in a report from the office of Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.
With voting by absentee ballot, votes aren’t counted until the day of the election. Clerks have said that creates a large workload. Shaw’s bill would allow for early votes to be counted early.
A true early-voting system was also recommended in a report issued this year by a commission formed by former Secretary of State Charlie Summers to study Maine’s voting system.
“True early voting provides for more convenient voting. It eliminates long lines at the polls and reduces pressure on election officials,” said Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, on the Senate floor.
But Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, said Maine consistently has high voter turnout with its current system.
“Quite frankly, I am not interested in creating an election season. It’s called Election Day for a reason,” Mason said.
Mason and Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, echoed arguments made by House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, on Monday, saying the system would be little used in small towns with smaller staffs and would be heavily used in cities, so access to the ballot would be skewed in favor of urban areas.
But Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said the bill would help voters in his rural district.
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at: