LD 1463, introduced by Gideon, would create an Automatic Voter Registration System in Maine

AUGUSTA – Speaker Sara Gideon earlier today presented LD 1463,  “An Act To Create An Automatic Voter Registration System,” before the Joint Standing on Veterans and Legal Affairs. The legislation creates a process that would automatically register eligible Mainers to vote when they interact with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or another approved state agency where they already provide proof of eligibility for voter registration.

“The foundation of America is built on every eligible citizen’s ability to participate in our democracy,” said Speaker Sara Gideon. “That starts with making the right to exercise our vote as easy and accessible as possible. Mainers have a long list of things to be proud of when it come to participation in our democracy, and putting in place an Automatic Voter Registration system that saves us time and money while increasing the accuracy and security of our election system can be one more thing we can add to that list.”

LD 1463 will allow eligible Mainers to be registered to vote when they interact with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or another approved state agency where they provide proof of eligibility for voter registration—including name, address, citizenship status, and signature. For an eligible voter, this information would be automatically added to the Central Voter Registration file. Election officials will then make available an option for the voter to enroll with a party or to decline registration altogether. Outdated information, e.g. old addresses, of registered voters will also be automatically updated.

Voters can still register with a voter registration card at their town hall if they prefer, and registration would not become mandatory. If an eligible Mainer does not wish to register and have their information on the voter rolls, they will be provided the opportunity to decline registration. 

Maine would be the 19th state to adopt an  Automatic Voter Registration system. Oregon became the first in 2015, and that  effort is widely considered a success. The state was  able to update the address information for 570,000 voters. Since then, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws.

LD 1463 has garnered early bipartisan support with Democratic, Republican and Independent cosponsors.

Speaker Gideon’s submitted written testimony is below.

 

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Senator Luchini, Representative Schneck, and distinguished members of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, I am Sara Gideon and I represent the town of Freeport, part of Pownal and I also have the distinct honor of serving as the Speaker of the Maine House.  Thank you for hearing LD 1463, “An Act To Create An Automatic Voter Registration System,” today.

I know that you, like me, are proud of the strong tradition of civic engagement in our State.  Maine is consistently among those with the highest levels of voter turnout in national elections, both in Presidential and Midterm years.  Our town meetings give citizens hands-on control of their local communities and our citizen legislature provides a level of public access that few other states match.

With such a strong voting system in place, I expect we all feel pride and security in our process.  Still, we should always be asking ourselves what more we can do to improve and strengthen this system.  In our country – built on the foundation of every eligible citizen’s ability to participate – that starts with making the right to vote easy to access and exercise.   While this includes the registration of new voters, it also means helping people keep their registration updated and accurate – especially our service members, veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities.  

There are secondary and equally important goals we should be striving to achieve as well: the privacy and security of our personal information and records, the accuracy of our voter registration information, the confirmation of voter eligibility, and the cost efficiency that comes with replacing paper registrations with electronic versions.

This bill accomplishes all of these things by creating a system of Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) in Maine for the first time.  Here’s how it works:

It’s time for you to get a new driver’s license. You go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), providing the necessary documentation to receive your license.  This same information also proves if you are eligible to vote – including name, address, citizenship status and signature. Those who demonstrate eligibility will be automatically added (electronically) to the Central Voter Registration file and provided the option to select a party registration or to decline registration. Those who are not eligible to vote will not be registered.  The system also cleans and updates our voter records each time a registered voter interacts with the BMV (or other participating agency as determined by the Secretary of State), ensuring that those who are already on the rolls but may have changed addresses, are up to date. This has the ancillary effect of improving the administration of elections on voting day.

So far, eighteen other states—from Vermont to Alaska, Georgia to California—have adopted some form of Automatic Voter Registration and seen great success in providing a more efficient and secure election system.  In Oregon, there were over 160,000 voters added to their rolls via AVR in the first years after implementation. Furthermore, over 94 percent of eligible voters who interacted with the BMV registered, and 44 percent of those new registrants voted.

When it comes to participation in our democracy, Mainers have a long list of things to be proud of.

Putting into place an AVR system that strengthens our democracy and saves us time and money while increasing the accuracy and security of our election system is our next step.  Together, we can ensure all eligible Mainers can exercise their fundamental right to vote and make their voices heard.

Thank you for your consideration.

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