Kay Rand last month wrote a column about changes to Maine’s voter registration law. The headline captured the tone of the piece: “Repeal of same-day registration a shameful law enacted out of fear.”

Maine voters will need to know much more about this issue if it ends up on the ballot as a people’s veto referendum. Specifically, they will need to separate fact from fiction. This column is a good place to begin.

Rand writes, “The new Republican majority in Maine prevailed in its attempt to eliminate same-day registration, which will result in votes being suppressed.”

If every other state in the country allowed Election Day registration, she might have a point. However, 43 states cut off registration in advance of an election, usually by weeks.

In Maine, voters will have to register two business days ahead of time. For a Tuesday election, the deadline would be 5 p.m. on the preceding Thursday. Two days is rather lenient compared to a 20-day registration cutoff in Massachusetts, not to mention 30 days in Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.

A sampling of states across the country shows the trend — 25 days in New York, 29 days in Arizona and Colorado, 28 days in Illinois, 21 days in Oregon, 15 days in California, and so on.

By Rand’s reasoning, many voters in the nation are being “suppressed.”

Rand goes on to say, “Fear is what the change seems to be based on. Fear that some segment of the electorate can’t be trusted with the franchise and should have their voices silenced.”

“Silencing” voters’ voices? That’s pretty strong language, especially when Secretary of State Charles Summers says the legislation (L.D. 1376) stemmed from rising pressure on municipal clerks around the state. They are increasingly stressed to process a deluge of last-minute registrations and absentee ballots.

The number of voters who wait until the final days to register is growing rapidly. More than 60,000 people registered on Election Day last November, although they had a whole year to do it.

Absentee voting has increased dramatically, too. In 2000, Maine adopted a law that allowed residents to cast an absentee ballot for any reason at all. Since then, absentee voting has soared. In 2000, for instance, 10 percent of Bangor voters cast absentee ballots. In 2010, the percentage grew to 60 percent.

The flood of absentee votes and last-minute registrations has created a major crunch for clerks trying to run an election. During the public hearing on L.D. 1376, an official with the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association said, “Currently, most clerks are at the breaking point when it comes to absentee voter turnout.” The sudden surge, she said, “literally leaves us no time to set up our polling places properly and prepare our voting lists the day before an election.”

Voter registration, she added, is very easy and would remain so. “Voter registration is open to residents all year long,” she explained. “Unlike absentee voting, there is no starting date for voter registration. Residents are able to register at the town office, via mail, during a voter registration drive or while obtaining their driver’s license at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, any time of the year.

“When a person registers to vote before Election Day, the voter registrar has ample time to solve any registration problems beforehand and better serve the voter.”

Rand claims that “other potential voters will get snared as well,” such as people who moved recently. If they move within the same municipality, however, they will able to update their address on Election Day, even if their polling place has changed because of the move. If they move to a new municipality after the Thursday before Election Day, they may vote by absentee ballot in their previous town of residence. For people who are already registered at their current address, there is no change.

Rand also contends that L.D. 1376 seeks to block college students from voting. She may be unaware that before every general election (every two years), voter information packets are sent to all Maine colleges and universities explaining how to conduct registration drives on campus. College students have ample opportunity to register in time.

In no way does L.D. 1376 prevent an eligible voter from casting a ballot. I am proud of Maine’s tradition of civic involvement and expect it to continue for years to come.

Rep. Susan Morissette, R-Winslow, serves on two legislative committees: Insurance and Financial Services; and Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

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