Editorial: Where we stand on same-day voter registration, gambling proposals

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Mainers will vote Nov. 8 on three controversial statewide ballot initiatives.

Question 1, which would reverse the law that eliminated same-day voter registration, is a matter of voter turnout and Maine’s integrity.

An estimated 6 percent of votes in Maine’s last election were cast by citizens who registered to vote on Election Day.

If Maine fails to preserve Election Day registration at the polls on Nov. 8, we would be saying that, going forward, those citizens don’t matter and those votes shouldn’t count.

That’s not the sentiment of Maine people, nor is it in the public’s interest to dismiss a single vote, which is why we must vote yes on Question 1 to preserve Election Day registration.

One of the most compelling reasons to do that comes from town and city clerks themselves, including Orono Clerk Wanda Thomas, who may very well be the state’s top expert on issues of college town registrations, since she serves the electorate of the University of Maine.

Thomas told mainecampus.com (the UMaine student newspaper) that she makes sure to staff the campus resident-only district precinct with extra clerks on Election Day to process registrations.

If students lose the Election Day option, Thomas said, they would have to register at the Town Office, where “more staff may need to be hired year-round because there would be no way to gauge when registrants would come in.”

Elimination of Election Day registration would, as Thomas understands it, cost government more to administer.

At a time when all levels of government are doing everything possible to cut costs, now is not the time to increase the financial burden on taxpayers.

Then, there’s the burden on government personnel.

Eliminating Election Day registration was, according to lawmakers, designed to give clerks time to verify registrants’ legal status. But, there’s no enforcement language in the law requiring clerks to do so, just an understanding that they will.

But will they?

In the more than 200 days since 206 public college students accused by state Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster of possible fraud were registered on Election Day last year, or in the more than 2,000 days since a dozen St. Joseph’s College students accused of the same were registered to vote in 2004, no residency checks were performed. Following Webster’s accusations, all students were checked and all accusations were found baseless.

But, realistically, without enforcement language written into the law to require clerks to verify residency, two days might as well be 200, or 2,000.

But that’s really a minor point.

Last year, of the 623 UMaine students who voted on campus, 500 registered on Election Day, according to Thomas. If Maine had imposed the two-day rule last year, some of those 500 would probably have registered in time to vote, but we cannot assume that all would have because some people are born procrastinators, which is not a crime.

Hindering the full opportunity for any of those students to vote, without verifiable evidence that we are courting fraud, is not good politics.

Finally, let’s also consider that the impassioned dual arguments presented to the Legislature that resulted in the elimination of Election Day registration: the specter of widespread fraud and the problem of busloads of students rushing poll places each Election Day.

Both assertions were intended to frighten; both were determined to be groundless.

Sure, there are some get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day among both parties, but no precinct has ever reported being overwhelmed by busloads of students arriving on Election Day to swing elections. And, there is no rampant voter fraud, with only two cases uncovered in decades.

So, what may have seemed to lawmakers to be convincing arguments are simply not true. The Legislature was duped and, next week, voters have an opportunity to reverse a law that was adopted based on a campaign of false information.

We urge voters to protect and preserve Election Day registration, to take a stand that every vote counts and to do all possible to ensure that every vote is counted.

Vote yes on Question 1.

Questions 2 & 3

The Maine Legislature faced a choice 10 years ago.

Gambling was clearly inevitable in Maine, and the state could have developed a logical process for locating a handful of strategically placed casinos or racinos here.

We could have sold licenses to developers and then determined how much revenue would go to the state and how it would be used.

But our citizen Legislature failed to act.

Largely by happenstance, voters have adopted a different and far less tidy process: developers approach communities with a plan. If the community supports the idea, the developers risk their own money to run a campaign to get statewide voter approval.

So far, the state’s voters have considered a half-dozen proposals and approved two gambling outlets, one in Bangor and another in Oxford.

Bangor has a racino; in 2012 Oxford will have a casino.

The process is less than ideal, but it is a process.

Now voters in Lewiston, Biddeford and Washington County have said they would welcome casinos or racinos into their communities.

The Biddeford/Washington County racino is Question 2 on the statewide ballot; the Lewiston casino is Question 3.

Voters should vote yes on both issues.

The reasons vary by community, but the common argument is the same: jobs and development.

The case for a casino in Lewiston is particularly compelling.

Bates Mill No. 5 is a large, historical structure located at the gateway to Maine’s second largest city.

It has been either empty or marginally utilized for nearly a quarter of a century. In that time, we have not had a single realistic plan emerge for that property.

Before a group of local citizens came forward with the casino idea, the city was on the verge of knocking it down.

Over the years, suggestions for the site have centered on creating a magnet to draw visitors back into the downtown. More than 10 years ago, discussion focused on a convention center.

But that would have required a huge public expenditure with the prospect of endless taxpayer subsidy.

A casino would accomplish the same goal but without public investment. Instead, the casino would return property taxes and gambling revenue to the city for years to come.

Perhaps the best reason for a yes vote on the Lewiston casino is to reject the hypocrisy and parochialism that has characterized this campaign.

Community leaders and some newspapers have argued that gambling would be great for Biddeford and Washington Counties, but somehow bad for Lewiston. According to the Portland Press Herald, a casino could even “block” development in Lewiston.

Lewiston disagrees, and loudly.

Believe, instead, what Dan Thayer, chairman of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council has said:

“The casino project will create new jobs that pay a livable wage, bring significant capital investments to an underutilized area, enhance the local property tax base and provide a downtown destination attraction without detracting from the community’s economic vitality, diverse business mix and it’s historic character.”

We urge you to vote yes on Question 2 and Question 3 on Nov. 8.