Automatic voter registration will encourage young Mainers to vote, say advocates

The best way to make sure people participate in our democratic system is by removing the barriers to get them to vote, advocates argued during a hearing Wednesday in favor of Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon’s automatic voter registration bill.

If LD 1463 passes, any Mainer who submits for a state I.D. or driver’s license would automatically be registered to vote, streamlining a process may be complicated and intimidating, especially for seniors and young people.

“According to the census, people ages 18 to 34 were registered at a rate of 64 percent in 2016, compared to 72 percent of citizens 35 years or older,” said Al Cleveland, speaking on behalf of the Maine League of Women Voters, during the hearing before the Veteran and Legal Affairs Committee. “In 2012, 18- to 29-year-old non-voters most commonly cited not being registered as their reason for not voting.”

As the first state in the country to implement automatic voter registration in 2015, Oregon saw 270,000 eligible people added to the voter rolls. The new voters were disproportionately young people and people of color: Thirty-seven percent of all the automatically registered residents who voted for the first time in 2016 were between 18 and 29 years old.

Voters between 18 and 29 make up only about 15 percent of Maine’s population, and 22 percent of them aren’t registered to vote.

Lily, a junior at Casco Bay High School in Portland, attested to the complexity of the registration process in Maine.  Testifying before the legislative committee, she explained how she had to attend a three-hour class just to learn how to register her peers and others to vote.

“Three hours is a really long time,” she said. “In that time, I could have taken an SAT prep test, watched two movies, or read 150 pages.”

In a press statement, Gideon highlighted the fact that “the foundation of America is built on every eligible citizen’s ability to participate in our democracy. That starts with making the right to exercise our vote as easy and accessible as possible.”

“Mainers,” Gideon continued, “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.”

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have already passed legislation to implement an automatic voter registration system.

Sign up for Beacon newsletters

Our newsletter, sent each evening, curates the day's most important stories from newsrooms around Maine.