Katherine Rhoda, right, of Hiram holds a sign that says “Stop Voter Suppression” during a voting rights rally outside Portland City Hall on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Small-business owners, activists and faith leaders Wednesday called on Sen. Susan Collins to support voter rights legislation aimed at making voting more accessible and countering legislation in many states that critics contend is designed to curtail access to the polls.

About 40 people held a peaceful rally Wednesday evening at Portland City Hall plaza to push Maine’s senior senator to get behind S.1: the “For the People Act.”

“We are here today, I am here today, to say as a young black business owner, I can’t stay quiet. Not when I know that the voting apparatus in this country is subject to unfair practices,” said Dustin Ward of New Gloucester. Ward owns a small business focused on racial equity work.

Roberto Rodriguez, a Puerto Rico native, small business owner and member of the Portland School Board, said passage is more important now than ever because states across the country are passing laws making it harder for people to vote.

“I am here to encourage Sen. Collins and senators across the country to support the For the People Act. This is a movement in America, and that movement is to recognize, educate and react to a balance of power that has lifted up the few and cast aside the many,” said Dave Aceto of Portland. Aceto owns Arcadia National Bar on Congress Street.

After the rally, the group released a released a letter that will be sent to Collins. The For the People Act will help affirm the voices of everyday American families and ensure that all voters have equal access to the ballot, no matter who they are, where they live, or what they believe, the letter said. It was signed by nearly 100 representatives of small businesses and nonprofits, including Arcadia National Bar, Lamey-Wellehan, and Bar Harbor Farms.

The U.S. House passed the For the People Act on a party line vote in March, but it fell short in the Senate on a 50-50 party line vote June 22. Collins opposed the bill on the Senate floor.

“Unfortunately, S.1 is not legislation that could ever form the basis of a reasonable, bipartisan elections reform bill. And it is far more likely to sow more distrust in our elections than to ease the partisan divisions in our country,” Collins said last month.

Collins said her concerns included allowing third parties to collect ballots from voters, raising “obvious and significant concerns about voter intimidation, coercion and ballot security.” She also said the bill’s requirement that absentee ballots be accepted up to seven days after an election, “could lead to chaos and distrust, particularly in close races.”

And she said the bill would allocate billions of federal dollars to congressional campaigns, forcing Americans to subsidize campaigns of politicians with whom they “vigorously disagree or simply dislike. Even very wealthy office holders would be eligible for public financing.”

A summary of the bill, posted on the congressional website, states that it would address voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance and ethics for the three branches of government. The bill would expand voter registration and voting access, including voting by mail and early voting, and would limit the removal of voters from voter rolls. It would also require states to establish independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, controls the legislative calendar, so he can call the bill back up at any time.


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