Direct democracy is a safety valve built into Maine’s political process, giving voters a chance to make laws when their elected officials won’t, or to strike down the really bad ideas that come out of Augusta.

Used with restraint, the citizen initiative and the people’s veto give voters a chance to have a say in their government. But when overused they can be more of a monkey wrench than a safety valve, paralyzing representative democracy by replacing hard work and compromise with a contest of slogans.

We are in a period where direct democracy is being used with more frequency and on a wider variety of issues than Maine has ever seen. While we trust the good sense of Maine voters and agree more often than not with the outcomes they reach, we think people should be more concerned about who they send to Augusta than in trying to do the legislators’ jobs for them.

That said, we might be expected, in the interest of consistency, to urge Mainers not to sign the latest set of papers to hit the streets this year — petitions for a people’s veto of the law that would strike down Maine’s nearly 40-year-old practice of letting new voters register at the polls on Election Day.

Some things, however, are more important than consistency, and, in this case, we hope that the folks with the clipboards will gather the right number of names, and give voters the chance to keep Maine’s voter registration law in place.

Passed by the Republican majority late in the session, the new law seeks to cure an illness that no one can prove we have. Elected officials claimed that an end to same-day registration was needed to return integrity to the voting process, but they couldn’t offer anything more than a gut feeling that integrity is lacking.

In an issue as important as deciding who gets to vote, the burden of proof should be on those who want to make a change, and gut feelings aren’t enough.

Now supporters of the law are claiming that the change is needed to take the pressure off election clerks. Even if that were true — and plenty of clerks say they don’t need this kind of relief — making life easier for clerks is not the point of an election. More important is maintaining a system that doesn’t disenfranchise people just because they moved between elections and have been too busy to update their registration.

Unlike some complex questions that have shown up on recent ballots — certain tax and spending reforms come to mind — this is not a multifaceted question. It’s straightforward: Should voting be made more difficult or should the current system stay in place? And who better than the voters to decide a question about voting?

Collecting 57,000 signatures is no easy task, but getting a people’s veto on the ballot should not be easy.

This time, we hope Mainers will sign the petitions and give themselves a chance to have the final word on this issue.


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