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Maine Voters Choose to Retain Election Day Registration
11/09/2011   Reported By: A.J. Higgins
Your Vote Election Coverage

About 90 minutes after the polls closed Tuesday night, state Republican leaders said it was apparent that a people's veto launched to reinstate same-day voter registration had succeeded. Backed by Maine Democrats and a coalition of progressive organizations including the Maine People's Alliance and the Maine Civil Liberties Union, the Yes on Question 1 campaign has restored the state's 38-year-old same-day voter registration law. 

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Maine Voters Choose to Retain Election Day Registr
Originally Aired: 11/9/2011 6:00 AM

Only a year ago, Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster led a people's veto effort to repeal a major tax reform law passed in 2009 by majority Democrats in the Legislature. On Tuesday, the Democrats struck back. The party and a large coalition of progressive allies launched a campaign that reinstated same-day voter registration after the long-standing law was repealed by majority Republicans this past June.

Webster, who had been an early -- and vocal -- supporter of the move to discard same-day registration, acknowledged that nearly 60 percent of Maine voters were not on board

"It's an election and they won and if they did win, they won and congratulations to them and we'll see what the next issue is," Webster said.

Webster frequently cited the potential for voter fraud--or in the case of students at the University of Maine at Farmington, his beliefs that actual voter fraud was taking place in state elections--as the reason why changes to the registration law were needed. The law that was overturned on Tuesday would have required new voters to register at least two business days prior to an election.

Some voters interviewed at the polls said the Republicans never made their case for voter fraud, but Webster believes the biggest factor was the more than half-a-million dollars spent by the Yes on 1 campaign -- including several hundred thousand dollars contributed by Donald Sussman, a billionaire hedge fund manager and husband of 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

"This ought to be of concern to people, because if someone like a Mr. Sussman can spend $700,000 to who-knows-how-much--$800,000--to win an issue like this that really most people don't care about, how much money will they spend on something that they do care about?" Webster said. "We had difficulty getting people excited about it."

But Webster's camp is also under scrutiny for its own spending practices.

"The No on1 side started by reporting $36,000 and then last week reportedly, according to estimates from some of the television stations, dumped nearly $300,000 dollars in, but we won't have confirmation on that until the No on 1 does their reporting," says Shenna Bellows, of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

Bellows was among the Yes On 1 supporters who gathered at the Bayside Bowl in Portland to watch the returns come in. She says it's possible that No on 1 may have actually outspent the Protect Maine Votes PAC that financed the people's veto advertising campaign.

Donald Sussman, who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the PAC, says money was not the issue for most Mainers -- instead, he says it was access to the ballot box that was at stake in Tuesday's election.

"It's a great day for democracy, a great day for democracy," Sussman said. "Because democracy was on the line here, they were taking away people's right to vote."

Ben Chin, of the Maine People's Alliance, was a driving force behind the statewide effort to gather a sufficient number of signatures to place the people's veto question on the ballot. Although partisan politics played a role in repealing same-day voter registration, Chin said he believed that the lopsided victory demonstrated that opposition to the Republican law crossed all party lines.

"At the end of the day, we were able to get 71,000 signatures in 23 days because people from every county in the state said they wanted to draw a line against the people who had been writing the rules of the economy and our society for themselves for way too long," Chin said. "People want to draw that line in a really big, clear way, and I think it's clear that that's where momentum for the country is going to."

At the Augusta Armory, George Cemodanovs cast his ballot in favor of Question 1, saying that he simply believes that if people want to register to vote on Election Day, they should be able to. Cemodanovs said opponents of the reinstatement effort never made their fraud claims stick in his mind.

"With all the hub-bub that was raised, they didn't really find anything to speak of that was a problem," Cemodanovs said.

Barbara McDade, president of the League of Women Voters of Maine and Question 1 supporter, said the voters approval of the question showed that Mainers take their elections seriously and oppose unnecessary barriers to the ballot.



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