AUGUSTA — Democrats in the Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would expand early voting in Maine, but the margin is not enough to bring the issue to voters.

The proposal, L.D. 156, sponsored by Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, would amend the Maine Constitution to give cities and towns the option of allowing in-person voting before Election Day. It does not specify how far ahead of Election Day the voting could take place.

The same bill received majority votes in the House and Senate last year but fell short of the two-thirds margin required in both chambers to amend the Constitution. Democrats, who hold the majority in the Legislature, sidelined the bill before it failed final passage last year and brought it back for the current session.

On Tuesday, Democrats in the Senate approved the bill with a vote of 21-14. The margin was four votes short of the two-thirds needed.

If finally approved by the House and Senate by two-thirds majorities, the bill would then go to referendum, where a simple majority vote would make it law.

The partisan split in the two votes taken this year makes that outcome unlikely.

Maine is one of 27 states that already allow no-excuse absentee voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The conference also lists Maine as one of 32 states that already allow early, in-person voting, but all early voting in Maine is now done by absentee ballot.

Democrats have argued that the bill would increase voter participation. Republicans counter that it would not include a limit on early voting.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler