Editor’s note: One in a frequent series of stories examining Maine’s voting system.

Mainers take their voting seriously.

Especially in presidential elections, voter turnout in the Pine Tree State is among the highest in the nation. In 2016, when Donald Trump won the Oval Office, Maine’s voter turnout of 69.9 percent trailed only New Hampshire, with 70.3 percent, and Minnesota, with 74 percent.

An even higher turnout is expected this year, and many will be first-time voters who have questions about the process.

This is National Voter Registration Day, and here’s what you need to know about voter registration in Maine:

Who is eligible to register?

An eligible voter in Maine must be a U.S. citizen, a legal resident of the state, and at least 18 years old by Election Day, Nov. 3. To register, voters also must show they have established and maintained a residency within the municipality where they intend to vote.

Maine and Vermont are the only two states to allow incarcerated inmates to vote. Maine is also among 19 states that allow convicted felons released from incarceration to vote as well. Incarcerated inmates are allowed register to vote in the municipality that they plan to return to upon their release from incarceration.

Maine residents who are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces who are overseas or other residents who are working in a foreign country are also eligible to register and vote by mail with absentee ballots. These voters should register to vote in the municipality where they last held a permanent residence.

Maine residents working or temporarily living in another state also may register to vote and cast an absentee ballot by mail.

What if I’m a college student?

This can be a little tricky. If you’ve already registered to vote in your hometown, you can cast an absentee ballot in that community or, if feasible, travel there to vote on Election Day. But if that’s not feasible, Maine law allows you to register using your college address.

“You can establish a voting residence at your Maine school address if you have a present intention to remain at that address for the time being, whether that residence is a dorm, apartment, house or even a hotel,” according to the Maine Secretary of State’s fact sheet on voting residency.

Controversies over college voters and efforts to suppress out-of-state students from voting have been a frequent topic in Maine politics for decades.

In 2016, on the eve of Election Day, then-Gov. Paul LePage suggested that out-of-state college students might be voting twice, once here and once in their home states, noting that would be voter fraud. But LePage provided no proof of that assertion. His claims were largely rebuffed at the time and both state and federal laws largely protect a college student’s right to register and vote in the town or city where they go to school.

Those laws are backed in part by a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision that college students can choose to vote in their home state or in the state where they attend school.

How do I register?

You can register by mail, by visiting your town or city hall, or at a voter registration drive often held by political parties, candidates, campaigns or those working to increase voter participation.

To register by mail you need to request a registration application, complete it, including copies of your identification and residency documents, and send it back to your local municipal voting official. Election officials are urging voters who are mailing election materials to allow at least seven days for delivery.

The state is giving Mainers an extra week to register by mail for the upcoming election, to allow for delays related to the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline for returning voter registration materials by mail is Oct. 19.

To find your local election official call your local town or city hall office. You can also search for the information on the Secretary of State’s online directory of municipal election officials.

You can also register to vote when you receive or renew your driver’s license or state identification card at any Bureau of Motor Vehicles location.

You can also register at your local polling place on Election Day. But municipal clerks are urging Mainers to register before Election Day if at all possible, as delays are likely because of precautions that polling places and poll workers must take against COVID-19 exposure

“While we don’t want to say that we don’t want people to register to vote at the polls, we certainly strongly encourage voters to take care of that task well in advance of Election Day because it can be done beforehand,” Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo said. “We are so concerned with long lines on Election Day – we want to get voters in and out as fast as possible so we can accommodate as many voters as possible.”

Registering before Election Day could be especially important in college towns. Biddeford City Clerk Carmen Morris said her polling place is often inundated with new voters from the University of New England on Election Day.

“Do it now,” Morris said. “Don’t wait until Election Day, do it beforehand.”

What documents do I need to register?

You’ll be required to show a state-issued photo identification card, like a driver’s license or photo-ID card, or provide the last four digits of your Social Security number, together with proof of residence in the form of documents like a utility bill or paycheck stub showing your mailing address. If you’re registering by mail, you’ll need to provide photocopies of these documents.

Once your are registered to vote you will not need to present identification at the polling place to vote, Though 34 states have implemented photo identification requirements, Maine is among the 16 states that do not require a registered voter to present identification in order to cast a ballot.

Is my voter registration permanent?

Not necessarily. A complex set of laws governs when and how voters are purged from registration lists. These laws require towns to mail a notice if a voter’s status is changed to inactive – which usually occurs after a voter has not participated in two consecutive general elections.

Clerks are also required to periodically review the voter lists and remove voters who are no longer residing in their jurisdiction because they have died or have filed a change of address request with the U.S. Postal Service, among other reasons.

If you’re a registered voter and move to another town, you’ll need to register in the new town. The clerk in your new town will notify the town where you previously lived, and you’ll be removed from the voter rolls there.

If you move within the same community, your polling place in some larger cities or town could change from one ward or precinct to another, so you should notify your clerk of your new address so your registration can be updated, which could save you time from having to go to a different polling place on Election Day. If you are unsure if you are registered to vote where you currently reside, you should contact your town or city clerk’s office and check before Election Day.

Is my voter registration private?

Voter registration cards are semi-public records in Maine, but only your registration status, your party affiliation, and the voting district you reside in can be disclosed upon request of the town clerk or Secretary of State. To get this information a person would first have to know where you lived and that you were registered to vote in that municipality.

The state maintains a Central Voter Registry which includes all registered voters, their party affiliation and whether they participated in an election. Some entities, including law enforcement, are allowed access to more details in the registry than others. Political parties, candidates and campaigns can purchase access to portions of the registry, including your mailing address, and phone number, not a requirement, and your voter participation history. But no entity can ever see who you voted for.

Next: A look at how the voter rolls are updated.

Do you have a question about Maine’s election system or how your vote will be counted? Send it to [email protected]

 


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