The League of Women Voters of Maine has a long history of promoting democracy at the ballot box. In recognition of national Voter Registration Day, let’s review why voter registration is a top priority of the LVW, the pathways to voter registration, and how we can all use voter registration as an opportunity for a larger discussion about democracy.
First, our voter registration effort reinforces the LWV’s longstanding campaign to end discrimination in voting rights. As the LWV has worked to extend the suffrage to the broadest possible population, we have learned that having the technical right to vote is not always enough. We know that barriers to voting continue to weaken our democracy.
Some of those barriers are the result of policies that needlessly burden those who would like to participate in voting and have something to contribute. Over the years, the LWV has fought against onerous identification and residency requirements imposed by state lawmakers and election officials. Whether these are cynical attempts to circumvent the right to vote, or just misguided efforts to protect the “sanctity of our elections,” the LWV has worked to eliminate unreasonable voter registration rules so that the process of choosing our leaders and deciding on referenda and other voter-determined policy matters is open to the full expression of the voice of the public.
Other barriers to voting are tied to the experience of the voters themselves. For every voter, there is a first time. Until then, voting can be a new and intimidating ritual. People worry that they may be embarrassed by the voting process or overwhelmed by the need to make choices in a context that feels unfamiliar. What are the issues and who are the candidates one must decide upon? Where do I register? Where do I vote? What do I actually need to do to complete a ballot and have it accepted? The LWV has attempted to lower these self-imposed barriers by providing appropriate voter-education materials, supportive outreach to newly eligible voters, and helpful public reminders of the schedule, locations and logistics of elections at all levels.
The LWV”s overall goal is to make sure that the necessary steps of voter registration do not create an undue burden, deterring eligible voters from participating in our system of self-government. As a nation we have rejected overt voting discrimination against non-property owners, women, and others. We enhanced our democracy by defeating those discriminatory voting laws, and by the same token we should not tolerate unreasonably high hurdles to voter registration.
As the 2015 election approaches, the LWV is now involved in registering voters in high schools across Maine. The LWV has also reached out to other unregistered citizens of all ages across the state to encourage them to register and vote. And we also support and participate in voter registration efforts held in conjunction with periodic citizenship ceremonies held to welcome immigrants who are joining our state and country.
The most recent citizenship ceremony was held on September 17th. LWV member Peg Balano stated that “the judicial ceremony was impressive as usual.” There was a very long receiving line reflecting the strong interest in becoming a voter and accepting the other responsibilities of citizenship. The LWV had six representatives helping that day. Peg also reported that “there were 90 new citizens from 39 countries and we registered 35. . . . I think everyone from the league really enjoyed it.”
Citizenship ceremonies and all of the other pathways to voting are also pathways for LWV members (and others) who want to share in the satisfaction of supporting our democracy in a very tangible way. Those who participate in helping people become voters are rewarded with a renewed appreciation for the awesome rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and for the opportunity to play a role in giving that experience to more people.
As Voter Registration Day approaches, we encourage everyone who cares about democracy to find a way to help register voters or to participate in one of the LWV’s voter registration programs. It is a great way to help increase active participation in our elections and to promote deeper discussions about civic activism and our mutual responsibility for self-government.
Join us for Voter Registration Week events around the state!
We’ll be at the Maine State Library from 11:30am to 1:30pm on Tuesday September 22. The Portland Area LWV is focusing on student registrations this year as part of its National Voter Registration Day efforts. Voter drives started September 16 at the University of Maine Augusta and continue at various locations until October 8 at Casco Bay High School. For more information please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.