In 2008, the city of Old Town limited the hours that people could register to vote.

Old Town has a significant population of transient students, and Registrar Patricia Brochu presumably was concerned that they would show up in large numbers to register just when her office was most heavily burdened.

Brochu made herself available on the basement level of a Bangor Savings Bank building for the convenience of new voters, expecting a heavy election day turnout that would slow down the voting process.

As far as I know, Brochu had nothing to do with passage of L.D. 1376 or its requirement that Maine’s voters register before election day, on the previous Thursday at the latest.

This example supports one of Charles Summers’ arguments for ending election day registration: That it is a pointless burden easily avoided by adopting a Thursday deadline.

That is a practical consideration recognized also by Vermont, which gives the registrars and town clerks an extra day by requiring registration on the last Wednesday before election day. Every traditionally and habitually Democratic state in the country requires earlier deadlines.

This fact — and it is plain fact — runs into excited charges by supporters of the people’s veto question designed to void the provision of L.D. 1376 ending election day registration.

Supporters of the legislation argue that it is enough for Mainers to have 247 days to register in person at their municipal clerk’s office, by mail, at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or at any Health and Human Services office. Opponents argue that voters who are denied the right to register on election day are being “disenfranchised.”

If we adopt this reasoning, we would have to conclude that an Old Town voter who was not allowed to register at 3:15 a.m. Nov. 4, 2008, was likewise being “disenfranchised.” Sure, he could come in later, but so could a voter on election day 2012 come in earlier.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that, because we are dealing here with a tangle of philosophy and politics. Philosophically, the liberals and leftists who prop up Maine’s Democratic Party argue that people have a right to register on election day, and confect complicated arguments and touching anecdotes to demonstrate how or why the right to register on election day is indistinguishable from the right the vote itself.

The conservatives who gravitate to the Republican Party have a philosophical inclination to assume an inescapable connection between rights and responsibilities. They don’t see why eligible voters don’t have a responsibility to find a way to register before the clerks get swamped with crowds on election day.

It’s the political dimension that really lights up the conflict over this issue. The editors of The New York Times see it this way: “It has been a record year for new legislation designed to make it harder for Democrats to vote. … The Republicans passing these laws never acknowledge their real purpose, which is to turn away from the polls people who are more likely to vote Democratic.”

This accusation had been leveled at the Maine Republicans as well, despite the fact Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and other Democratic strongholds have far more restrictive deadlines than the two-day lead time required in L.D. 1376.

This inconsistency really ought to be explained. It won’t be.

Another thing that needs explanation is this claim that it’s the Democratic voters who have a problem registering in good time. I’ve seen easily a dozen letters to the editor telling the tale of why some person or another really, really needed to register on election day and no other, but none of these examples seems to apply to persons who were necessarily and inescapably Democratic in affiliation.

I have heard that it said repeatedly that the elderly, the handicapped and the young have some special problem in registering before election day.

Speaking as a spavined, decrepit septuagenarian with a handicapped decal, pricing coffins and waiting for the end, I’m at a loss to understand why it should be harder for me to register on Thursday than on election day.

As for the young, I suppose you can argue that being four days older makes them four days wiser and better able to make a wise choice in the voting booth.

Not much of an argument, but it’s the only one that appears to be available.

John Frary, of Farmington, is a retired professor and former Republican candidate for Congress.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.