Lawmakers on Maine’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on LD 2067, “An Act To Authorize the Automatic Continuation of Absentee Voter Status until the Termination of That Status.” The bill, sponsored by Sen. Linda Sanborn, would allow a voter to become an ongoing absentee voter, requiring clerks to automatically mail absentee ballots to these individuals for each municipal and statewide election. After applying for ongoing absentee voter status, the voter would no longer have to request an absentee ballot for each election; it would automatically be mailed to them.
The Maine Municipal Association (MMA) and the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association both submitted testimony in opposition of the bill, citing concerns of fraud.
Kate Dufour, who provided testimony on behalf of the MMA’s Legislative Policy Committee, said that municipal officials are “concerned that the automatic process will erode the integrity” of our elections and that the “ability to claim that an election was conducted fraudulently gains momentum when, for example, a ballot is automatically mailed out to a person who is not living at the same location, deceased, or may not have any intention to vote in that election.”
Kathleen Montejo echoed that sentiment in her testimony on behalf of the clerks’ association.
“Voters who move may forget to update their address. However, town clerks will be required to automatically mail an absentee ballot to the name and address with an on-going request. We have concerns that the ballot will not go to the intended person and new residents of the property might fill out and mail the ballot back in,” Montejo said in her testimony.
“If the voter with an on-going absentee request moves or dies, and we are not notified, we will be mailing ballots to an address that is no longer applicable. We feel that without the protection of voters requesting an absentee ballot for each election and potentially alerting the clerk of a new address, there is a loss of security and checks and balances over the system.”
In its testimony, the MMA also challenged the premise that obtaining an absentee ballot is difficult, an issue also raised by The Maine Heritage Policy Center.
The current process requires voters to fill out an absentee ballot application every time they intend to utilize an absentee ballot. As the Secretary of State’s website says, “you don’t have to be out-of-town or have any other reason to take advantage of this easy way to vote at a time that is most convenient for you.”
Voters can currently make a telephone request or use the Secretary of State’s website to make a request for an absentee ballot, and at the municipal level, current law allows absentee ballots to be requested with a letter, phone call, a visit to the town office or an email, according to Dufour. Even immediate family members can obtain absentee ballots for their loved ones. In other words, the process is already extremely easy and intuitive for voters.
As time passes, the program would likely become more and more problematic. A voter could easily forget they have an absentee ballot coming to them or move without officially changing their address. In both scenarios, it jeopardizes the security of our elections to have blank ballots lying around.
There should be little doubt that the system outlined in LD 2067 would delegitimize our existing absentee ballot program with new errors and inefficiencies. As goes the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”