The resolution (L.D. 156), which would make changes to both early voting and voting via absentee ballot, now heads back to the Senate where it will require a minimum of two-thirds support. L.D. 156 is one of several “emergency bills” the Democrat-controlled Legislative Council allowed into the second regular session of the 126th Legislature.
According to House Republicans, the proposed amendment would allow voting to occur at “virtually any time.”
Representatives who voted in favor of the measure include Reps. Michael G. Beaulieu (R-Auburn), Jon Kinney (R-Limington), and every Democrat.
Rep. Joseph E. Brooks (I-Winterport) voted against the measure.
The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Michael Shaw (D-Standish), received an initial public hearing almost one year ago on Feb. 20. Shenna Bellows, then-head of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, now-Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, testified in favor of the proposal.
“True early voting would reduce the strain on elections systems created by the casting of ballots on a single day,” said Bellows.
But House Republicans say the changes would give disproportionate power to Maine’s urban areas — large municipalities that could more easily facilitate multiple-day voting.
“This is part of a broader liberal war on our sacred voting rights and traditions that is being waged for no other reason than to make it easier for Democratic political groups to turn out their supporters,” said House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport). “This proposal would do away with the very idea of an Election Day.”
“The purpose of an election day is to gather the opinions of the people on one day, allowing the public ample time to debate pressing issues and consider the arguments made by those seeking to represent the people,” said Assistant House Minority Leader Alex Willette (R-Mapleton). “A lot can happen in the months preceding an election, and an erosion of the very concept of Election Day would be to the great detriment of democracy as a whole.”
Willette quoted a recent Politico op-ed from two law professors opposed to liberal early voting laws. The professors were responding to a report issued by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration which urged more early voting: “For all its conveniences, early voting threatens the basic nature of citizen choice in democratic, republican government,” Profs. Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis wrote.
John Fund, conservative columnist for National Review Online, also criticized the commissions report: “The commission’s most controversial recommendation is to expand early and absentee voting, in large part to reduce the polling-place waiting times to 30 minutes or less, even though an [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] study found that the average waiting time on Election Day in 2012 was only 14 minutes.”
Fund concludes: “If present trends continue, at some point we will become a nation where half of us vote on Election Day and the other half . . . well, whenever. But the notion of an Election Day is embedded in a law passed by Congress in 1872, when it was stipulated that presidential elections should be held on the same day throughout the nation. With extended early voting, the concept of an Election Day — where people vote with roughly the same information and after all the debates have been held — loses most of its meaning.”
In Maine, Other Democrat-backed measures to change the election process, including a proposal to enact a run-off system, failed last year.