This morning at 10 am at the State House, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap will deliver a report by the Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine.  On balance, the report, which you can read here, is very exciting!

The Commission rejects voter ID and endorses same day voter registration and early voting!  Today's Portland Press Herald captures our jubilance.  We are indeed thrilled.

This outcome is a testament to the power of grassroots action.  The Commission held eight public hearings across the state from August through November.  ACLU members attended every single one of those hearings.  Thank you, all of you who gave up a summer or fall evening in Maine to witness hours of testimony and share your own stories!

Our voting rights organizer, Diane Gilman, worked tirelessly to publicize the hearings in local communities, so that people could participate in this critical conversation about voting rights.  Over and over again, Maine voters testified in opposition to voter ID and in support of same day voter registration and early voting.     

The very creation of the Commission was controversial, as it was the creature of compromise reached last legislative session when it was clear that a voter ID bill had failed to win enough votes for passage.  Some feared that the Commission would rubber stamp the voter ID proposal. Those fears were allayed when the Commission report was leaked to the Huffington Post yesterday.  

We do not agree with everything in the report.  The Commission recommends some changes to statute to potentially tighten residency requirements for voting, a change that could have the impact of discouraging young people, particularly college students who move to Maine to attend school, from voting.  We think such changes undermine the fundamental constitutional right to vote and should be viewed with skepticism given the lack of any evidence that there's a problem in Maine.  We also think the recommendation runs counter to heartfelt testimony by some students at the public hearings that they already felt chilled and discouraged from voting in the 2011 elections

We also feel the Commission did not adequately heed the concerns raised multiple times about the negative impact that eliminating in-person absentee voting on the Friday, Saturday, and Monday before an election had on Maine voters during the 2012 elections.

Nevertheless, Mainers will have an opportunity to put grassroots pressure into action on these issues this legislative session.  Rep. Mike Shaw (D-Standish) is sponsoring a constitutional amendment to allow early voting, LD 156LD 53 and LD 54 sponsored by Rep. Henry Beck (D-Waterville) and Representative Nathan Libby (D-Lewiston) would increase access to in-person absentee voting.  The ACLU of Maine will vigorously support these bills, which would make it easier for Maine citizens to participate in elections.  Democracy depends on it.