Maine Secretary of State’s Confusing Anti-Voter Agenda

By Meghan Shalvoy

In Maine, Secretary of State Charlie Summers’ job it is to protect the voting rights of Maine residents, and yet he supports the legislation obviously suppressing that right. In June, upon Summers’ recommendation, Governor Paul LePage signed a bill into law repealing the state’s 38 year old law allowing same-day voter registration. This effectively strips away a successful system which increased access for thousands of individuals in Maine.

Summers claims that this measure will help to eliminate human error within an overwhelmed system. According to polling, 56% of Mainers support same-day voter registration. The issue will be voted on as a ballot initiative this Election Day, November 8.

In 2007, Maine introduced a digital Central Voter Registration System (CVR) intended to centralize voter information across the state. In January 2011, Summers signed a letter to the state’s Joint Committee on Veteran and Legal Affairs praising the effectiveness of the CVR through two major elections in 2008 and 2010.

According to the letter, signed by Summers and dated January 12, 2011: “The system, maintained by the Department of the Secretary of State, and containing over one million voter records, was regularly accessed and updated over the internet in real time by municipal clerks and registrars from over 500 municipal jurisdictions. Not only did the CVR help election officials smoothly administer a very busy and closely watched election; it also facilitated the use of innovative online citizen services accessed through Maine’s eDemocracy website.” (emphasis mine)

Summers now claims that the voter registration system has not been assessed in several decades, even though he is obviously aware of the now four year old digital CVR system. When asked at his press conference last week how he explains the huge disparity in the content of the letter and his explanation for eliminating same-day voter registration, he admits to signing a letter he did not in fact write. “That investigation was actually done by my predecessor and I was forwarding it on as I was required to by statute,” Summers said last Wednesday.

In 2008 alone nearly 60,000 people registered to vote in Maine on Election Day, most of whom are independent voters. State Representative Diane Russell is particularly concerned about this attack on Maine’s independent, which constitute a majority of Maine’s voters at 37 percent; “Maine has a long history of being fiercely independent. This law hurts independent voters more than any other group. We should be encouraging our Maine independence, not trying to silence it.”

Also proposed in Maine this year yet shelved until the 2012 legislative session is a voter identification requirement, much like those signed into law this year in seven states, and vetoed in four states including Maine’s neighbor New Hampshire. This is a sweeping effort across the country which will disenfranchise millions of voters, particularly students, communities of color, individuals with disabilities, and seniors.

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