(TNS) — Maine would join 38 other states in allowing voters to register online if a bill before a key committee of the state Legislature is passed into law this year.
The measure, offered by Rep. Teresa Pierce, D- Falmouth, would require Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to establish a system that allows online voter registration by January 2023. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday before the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over voting laws in Maine.
Among the bill's co-sponsors are House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D- Biddeford, as well as the House and Senate chairmen of the committee.
Maine currently allows any eligible voters to request registration materials online, by phone or in person but doesn't allow voters to submit or have their application to vote approved electronically. Pierce's bill would allow voters to register, change their address and update or change their party affiliation all online. The measure comes amid a wave of legislation across the country aimed at changing voting laws following a 2020 presidential election that saw widespread false allegations of voter fraud and election-official misconduct advanced by former Republican President Donald Trump.
The Maine online registration bill, L.D. 1126, also comes as conservative-led legislatures in other states, like Georgia, move to add new voting restrictions in what Republicans say is an effort to restore voter confidence in U.S. elections. Opponents of such restrictions have said they largely target minority and Black voters. President Biden, a Democrat who won in Georgia last year, called the new restrictions "Jim Crow in the 21st century."
Lawmakers who support the shift to a fully online voting system in Maine say it is long overdue and will remove cumbersome barriers that now exist for many voters.
Rep. Vicki Doudera, D- Camden, among the supporters of the bill, says the shift will save voters time but will also save the state and local governments money.
"Processing electronic applications is a fraction of the cost of processing paper applications," Doudera said in written testimony. " Arizona, the innovator in paperless voter registration, experienced a reduction in per-registration costs from 83 cents per paper registration to 3 cents per online registration."
The system will also reduce application errors as voters will largely enter their own information into the system, Doudera wrote. She also notes online voter registration could prove advantageous during situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's also a safe, no contact way of registering to vote, and given the year we've all just gone through, it makes sense to think of enhancements to our democratic system that are touch-free," she wrote.
Pierce, the bill's sponsor, said many people may see the measure as way to help younger voters register but that it actually benefits all kinds of voters who may not have time to get to a town office during regular business hours.
"We saw through the pandemic how we need to create many, many avenues for people to be able to do things," Pierce said.
Pierce said it was disappointing to see some other states restricting voting access and that Maine has always led on voter access issues but has lagged when it comes to online registrations.
"It's time to bring us up to the status quo of the rest of the nation, basically," Pierce said. "There are many roadblocks to voting access, and having online voter registration just eliminates one of those roadblocks."
Other supporters of the bill include Democracy Maine, a collaboration between the League of Women Voters of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.
Anna Kellar, the executive director of both organizations, said online registration would add convenience without compromising security.
"We were the first state to adopt same-day voter registration almost 60 years ago; we will be among the last to adopt online voter registration," Kellar said in an email message. "To live up to our reputation as a leader in voting innovation, we must continue to press forward with these important reforms."
But some in the Legislature remain skeptical.
John Bott, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R- Oxford, said House Republicans are not convinced that Maine needs to make changes to its voter registration system.
"Our members would have to be convinced that there is a problem with the current system," Bott said. " Maine consistently ranks in the top two states for voter participation, so there does not appear to be a registration or turnout problem that needs fixing."
(c)2021 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.