May 11, 2011
Contact: Caitlin E. Chamberlain
(207) 441-0501

Secretary of State Summers Presents Testimony for LD 1376 before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee

AUGUSTA, MAINE — Secretary of State Charles E. Summers, Jr. testified in Support of LD 1376: “An Act to Preserve the Integrity of the Voter Registration and Election Process” before the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs.  The bill is sponsored by House Speaker Robert Nutting and cosponsored by Senate President Kevin Raye. The Secretary’s testimony appears below.

Testimony of
Charles E. Summers, Jr.,
Secretary of State
Department of the Secretary of State

Before the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs May 9, 2011    

In Support of LD 1376: “An Act to Preserve the Integrity of the Voter Registration and Election Process”

Senator Farnham, Representative Beaulieu, members of the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs:

I am Charlie Summers, Secretary of State.  I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you in support of LD 1376 - An Act To Preserve the Integrity of the Voter Registration and Election Process.

As Secretary of State, it is my responsibility to oversee our elections and ensure the integrity of the system. I take this responsibility seriously, and have instructed the people within my department to take a close look at our voting system, to see what we can do to ensure the stability of our election process. This bill, LD 1376, is a direct result of that review.

We have identified a growing pressure on our municipalities that risks overtaxing our electoral structure if it is not addressed. Municipal clerks are facing a growing trend of last-minute registration and absentee ballot requests. Year by year, the work load clerks face has gone from being manageably spread-out to being concentrated in the final days of the election. As Speaker Nutting described in his testimony, we have gone from a system where 10% of voters used absentee ballots in 2000 to a situation where, in the city of Bangor last year, over 60% voted absentee. In 2008, approximately 15% of all absentee ballots were cast in the last two business days before election day.
We have spoken with municipal clerks, and they’ve identified this trend as one of their biggest concerns. They do not have the flexibility or the resources to simply bring in more staff to handle the final days of an election, and they struggle to perform their regular municipal functions alongside this increasingly concentrated voter registration and absentee ballot process.

The purpose of LD 1376 is to relieve some of the stress on the system, before it breaks down. This bill will give municipal clerks some breathing room during this highly stressful period by pushing the deadline for absentee ballot requests and voter registration out just a few days earlier.

There are some that may say this change will inhibit the ability of some Mainers to vote, by making the law more restrictive. This is not the case. LD 1376 allows those who truly need to register or cast absentee ballots at the last minute to do so, unimpeded. For everyone else, this bill simply shifts the deadline two business days earlier. We feel this is a reasonable and prudent measure that will provide the electorate as a whole a more stable voting process, and protect the integrity of the system as voter trends continue to change.

This bill is the result of consultations with municipal clerks and elected officials, as well as the accumulated experience, through multiple administrations, of my staff at the Secretary of State’s office. Our team has watched these trends develop, and has dealt with minor emergencies in towns all over Maine over the course of many election cycles. The measures contained in LD 1376 are well thought-out, and will address stresses on the system with minimal change to the voting process.

As with all aspects of the electoral system, our first concern is for the integrity of the system. Our responsibility is to make sure every Mainer has full access to their sacred right to cast a ballot. In order to make sure of this, we need to adopt a lean-forward approach to our electoral oversight. We do not want to be in the position of looking over a debacle like the state of Florida experienced in the 2000 elections and thinking, what could we have done to keep this from happening? Our current system leaves us vulnerable and LD 1376 identifies a weakness in the system and is intended to protect the stability of our election process.

I thank the committee again for the chance to testify in support of LD 1376, and welcome any questions you may have.