Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Same Day Voter Registration, problem or not?

Depending on who you talk to, this is either a huge deal, or no big deal at all.  One thing is certain, it has quickly morphed from something nobody talked about to one of the most contentious laws our new Governor has signed into law.  The issue at hand is whether or not Maine citizens should be allowed to register to vote on Election Day.  Mainer's have had the ability to register at their local polls for 38 years, after the Republicans originally passed it into law.  Now, nearly four decades later, the same Republican party is trying hard to convince us all that this is the worst thing in the world.  Is it the worst thing in the world?  Heck no, not even close.  Let's look at both sides of the issue...

The majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate would tell you that there is plenty of time throughout the year to get into your local town office and register.  They would tell you that this will prevent potential voter fraud.  They will tell you that 42 others states have the same law, so they must be doing something right.  They would tell you that town employees are overwhelmed with all the work to register people on Election Day.

The majority of Democrats will claim that this law will disenfranchise a number of citizens.  They will tell you that this will reduce our overall number of participating voters, which is near the top nationally.  They will tell you that there have only been 2 documented cases of voter fraud in the last 30 years.  They will tell you that this is an unnecessary roadblock to one of our most sacred rights as citizens.

So, who should we believe?  What are we to think?  Well, here are my thoughts on the subject.  First of all, I don't really care what 42 other states are doing.  That's like telling me that 42 guys at work are wearing a dress and high heels, and that I should too.  I don't care what 42 other people, or in this case, states, are doing.  That is completely irrelevant to what Maine does.  Maine consistently has one of the highest voter turnouts, and this will have an impact on those numbers.  What we should be doing is ensuring that we make certain that each and every citizen be afforded every opportunity to cast a ballot on Election Day, not set up barriers to make it potentially more difficult. 

Some are arguing that there are about 250 business days a year in which a person can get to their town office to register.  Sure, that is absolutely true.  However, that doesn't take into consideration a multitude of stumbling blocks.  If I were to move on November 1st, it is very likely that I would not have a chance to register to vote in time.  Heck, if I moved October 29th, I may not have time.  Is this a very common problem?  Probably not, but why take away that person's right to vote simply because they moved so close to Election Day?   What if you live in a small town, and have to travel 20+ miles to and from work?  Is it possible that you are not able to make it to your town office during business hours?  Should you have to take a day off to register to vote, when you could so on election day to register? 

One thing I think we can be proud of is the low percentage of documented voter fraud we experience in Maine.  2 cases in 30 years is great.  Should we do what we can to ensure that number stays low?  Absolutely.  In fact, we just passed a law that requires citizens present a photo ID proving who they are before they are allowed to vote.  Seems to me that should prevent dead people from voting, or those pesky people that vote multiple times.  Once your name is checked off the list, you are done.  Also, there have been no complaints from town employees about this process.  They work their butts off, and have a smile on their face.  I spent a good portion of my day at my local polls for our last election in June, and our town officials do a fantastic job. 

At the end of the day, this was a solution to a problem that does not exist.  I'm not going to claim racism, like many have.  I won't go that far.  However, I will say that this is clearly an attempt to disenfranchise potential voters, and that is really too bad.  Voting is a right that we all have, and any attempt to make it more difficult is simply unnecessary.  Our voices are meant to be heard by way of the ballot box, and any attempt to silence that is undemocratic.  I don't care if you are a high school freshman, a college senior, or a senior citizen, we should be doing everything possible to encourage you to speak your voice on Election Day, not tell you that you are too lazy for not coming to the town office sooner to register.  I would like to see us be more helpful to others, not be quick to bring them down.  I would also like to see Maine stand on its own, not worry about what any other state does.  Maine is nationally known as "The Way Life Should Be", not the copycat state.  I'm just saying...