Mixed Results for Voting-Rights Referendums

Republicans have spent 2010 overhauling voter laws to design their ideal electorate. Last night, voters in Maine fought back, approving Question 1, which restores Election Day registration. It won easily by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

As I detailed in the November issue of the magazine, when Republicans gained control of Maine's legislative chambers and governor's office, they set their sights on building a permanent majority by passing restrictive voter laws. They failed to push a voter-ID bill through the legislature, but Republican Governor Paul LePage signed a repeal of Maine's Election Day registration this summer.

Maine has allowed voters to register at the polls on Election Day for nearly four decades (with only two prosecuted cases of voter fraud in that time) and consistently placed near the top of the country in turnout as a result. Around 60,000 Mainers took advantage of the regulation for the 2008 election. Think tank Demos (full disclosure: Demos is the Prospect's publishing partner) has found that states with same-day voter registration have, on average, 7 percent higher turnout.

Voting-rights advocates in Maine joined forces immediately after legislators repealed same-day voter registration, collecting 70,000 signatures in less than a month to secure a spot on the ballot this year. It became a heated contest for a referenda vote in an odd-year election, with independent groups running TV ads on both sides of Question 1.

The resounding defeat will force Maine Republicans to re-evaluate their plan for further restrictions on ballot access. They failed to garner enough support for photo-ID requirements during the last legislative session but had planned to raise the issue again when the legislature meets early next year. Lance Dutson, executive director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, told the Portland Press Herald that voter ID is still on the Republican agenda, but those legislators will now have to think carefully about new restrictions after yesterday's vote.

While Maine struck down Republican efforts to suppress voter turnout, Mississippi approved a constitutional amendment to require voter ID. There are now six states that have passed strict photo-ID laws since 2010; Indiana and Georgia had been the only ones with these requirements prior to this year. Mississippi is the first, though, which has implemented Republicans' restrictive laws through a popular vote, rather than through legislative action.

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