Registration day blues

Registering on election day
By AL DIAMON  |  July 6, 2011

When it comes to politicians debating important issues, I prefer them to get down and dirty. When partisan spokespersons accuse each other of dishonesty, treason, or some form of perversion compelling them to send out Twitter messages that include suggestive photos of body parts ("Ick! Is that your state senator's pancreas?"), the chances are good they're saying what they really think.

As soon as the discussion shifts into polite, high-minded disagreements over differing interpretations of the "sacred" and "fundamental" values this great country was founded upon, you can be certain both sides are lying like the stinking weasels they are.

There's no better example of this masking of base motives with lofty phrases than the current controversy over allowing people to register to vote on election day. (Before proceeding, I'm required to advise those sensitive to weasel stench to take appropriate precautions.)

For nearly four decades, Mainers have been permitted to show up at the polls, register, and cast a ballot on the same day. This simple system was praised for encouraging greater participation in the electoral process and credited with boosting voter turnout. It was also blamed for allowing people of questionable residency to vote and for making it more difficult to prevent someone from casting ballots in multiple locations.

Both these sets of principled stands are bogus. You can tell because the arguments for and against are so elevated they suffer from oxygen deprivation.

"Our responsibility is to make sure every Mainer has full access to their sacred right to cast a ballot," Republican Secretary of State Charles Summers told the Portland Press Herald in May. "In order to ensure this, we need to adopt a lean-forward approach to our electoral oversight."

That's so drenched in weasel musk, you can't even be certain which side Summers is on.

In a Bangor Daily News op-ed that same month, Maine Civil Liberties Union executive director Shenna Bellows wrote, "Voting is a patriotic act, fundamental to our democracy. Now, some want to make it harder for the average Mainer to exercise that fundamental, constitutional right to vote."

Overstated. Under-factual. Weasel tracks all over the keyboard.

As the debate progressed, the rhetoric regressed. Among those responsible: the League of Women Voters ("a critically important issue"), the speaker of the Maine House ("a very small inconvenience to maintain the integrity of every vote cast"), the Maine League of Young Voters ("voter suppression"), and hyperbolic legislators ("There's no reason to think [voter fraud] might not happen here").

The closest anyone came to saying what they really thought was GOP state chairman Charlie Webster in the Portland Press Herald ("this is about how Democrats have managed to steal elections").

Let's replace the unpleasant animal odors with some scent-free facts.

Same-day registration proponents' arguments to the contrary, there's no hard evidence that permitting people to sign up at the last minute provides a significant boost to turnout. Even supporters of the idea concede that motor-voter — allowing registration when applying for or renewing a driver's license — is likely a more important factor. The relatively small number of folks who show up to register on election day is composed primarily of apathetic sorts who've been badgered into voting by activists making deadline pushes in support of particular candidates or ballot initiatives. These new voters neither know nor care about the races they're deciding and are even less concerned about "fundamental" rights.

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