No election day registration hurts real people

Maine’s Question 1 has real-life consequences

Originally published as “Message: Make Mainers’ Life More Difficult” in the Bangor Daily News.

Imagine a political campaign with this message: “We want to make Mainers’ lives more difficult. The system that’s been around for decades is remarkably effective and we’ve documented no actual problems. But it should go.”

That’s the message from supporters of No on Question 1, those who think the 38-year practice of Election Day registration should not exist.

What they don’t say is that the difficulty would hit residents such as these:

One is a military wife who just arrived in Maine and, complete with her three kids and their big dog, is busy setting up a household. She’s settling in after her husband was stationed in Maine. Her oldest likes soccer and the middle one wants to learn how to skate. Life in this home is the usual chaos.

Another is a fellow who has to get to work at 7 a.m. an hour from where he lives. Some days he works a second job, which he’s carrying to save some money and soon will need to make ends meet. His wife is working now but they are expecting their first baby and then she’ll be staying home to take care of the little one. In their small town, the town clerk is only there from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. three times a week, except for the lunch break.

And then there’s the 40-something nurse who has come back to Maine to care for her sick father. She grew up in Lincoln, went to UMaine to get her education and recently worked at a hospital in Atlanta. Now her father needs her help and she’s back home. Between taking him to physical therapy three times a week, doing the household work and getting up at night when he calls out, her life is very full and stressful.

You also have the student who is carrying a full course load while also working full time. The first in his family to go to college, he carries their hopes and dreams while he studies and dreams of a better future.

Then there’s the senior who had to leave her home, the one she and her husband bought when they were young. She was registered to vote all those years but now she’s in a new place where she’s still adjusting to different routines. It’s hard to get around and taking two trips to vote — one to register and one to cast a ballot — would be difficult and very inconvenient, both for her and for whoever has to take her.

Each of these people has been told that it’s no big deal that the new system is harder for them. Worse yet, some have even said that if they haven’t registered beforehand, it shows they don’t care about politics all that much and don’t know much, either. After all, some say, not being registered to vote before Election Day is a sign that they aren’t up to snuff as citizens.

I might point out that some of the leaders of the effort to end Election Day registration used it themselves.

But, more to the point, all the research shows that the only thing that’s clearly related to needing to register to vote in a particular election is having moved since the last one. It’s not about knowledge or commitment — just having moved.

Thus the change in the law most hits military families, working-class people, people in small towns and rural areas, students, seniors and anyone who has moved to help someone, try to make a new life or found a new place that better meets their needs. If they can’t jump over this new barrier then they’ll end up with less ability to choose officials and hold them accountable.

Most people who register on Election Day are unenrolled voters. And decades of data — going far back before this issue arose in Maine — clearly demonstrate that states with Election Day registration have the highest voting rates.

What the No on 1 campaign is saying is, “We want to make voting — and the lives of good people — harder.” With this economy, with how busy everyone has become, this is the wrong message for Maine.

Amy Fried is a professor of political science at the University of Maine. You can follow her on Twitter at and read her blog at

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.