Committee Hears LD 1575: An Act to Improve Maine’s Election Laws

Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Jen Lancaster

Members of Mainers for Modern Elections testified expressing their full support for the bill

[PORTLAND, ME] — Several members of Mainers for Modern Elections — a coalition committed to advocating for safe, secure, and modern elections — testified before the joint standing committee on Veteran and Legal Affairs to support the passage of LD 1575: An Act to Improve Maine’s Election Laws. 

The proposal would improve voter information, protect the rights of nonpartisan observers, and ensure consistent treatment of student IDs when registering to vote.

LD 1575 makes several key improvements to Maine’s election laws, building on the experiences of last year’s elections. In 2020, several changes were made to adapt Maine’s elections to the COVID-era through executive order and Secretary of State agency guidance. LD 1575 would make several of these successful changes a permanent feature, and make additional minor changes to address issues observed in 2020. Together, the measures will ensure Mainers can continue to take full advantage of all of the ways to vote in future elections.  

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Jay McCreight, introduced the bill’s intent to improve access to the ballot for eligible voters, while highlighting Maine’s strong election process. McCreight said, “This proposal should not be understood as implying our elections are not well run; I think we know they are very well run.”

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows also spoke in support of the bill, stating, “Increasing access to voting and ensuring that local elections and voters have clear information about how elections are run,” which are among her office’s top priorities. “Transparency and clarity are vital to the smooth execution of election law and to ensuring voters that are elections are both fair and secure.”

Will Hayward from the League of Women Voters of Maine highlighted the bill’s intent to build on the lessons of the 2020 elections. Of the many improvements suggested in the bill, Hayward identified the importance of enshrining the rights of nonpartisan observers. Under current law, nonpartisan election observation is not afforded the same guarantee to participate in the election process as partisan observation. Guaranteeing the right to outside observation of the election, unaffiliated with a political party, is an important step for building voter confidence in our elections.

Will Sedlack testified on the behalf of Maine Conservation Voters and spoke to the proposed dropbox guidance, stating, “It is our belief that the restriction of one dropbox per municipality limits the benefit of secure drop boxes for some voters.” Absentee ballot dropboxes were successfully used in the 2020 election through a combination of existing law and Secretary of State guidance. However, municipalities were restricted to one dropbox per municipality, limiting the utility of dropboxes for some voters. LD 1575 directs the Secretary of State to develop rules to ensure dropboxes are secure and that municipalities are permitted to deploy multiple dropboxes.

Lauren Jacobs from the Maine Women's Lobby cited the additional barriers women face in terms of access to the ballot and how LD 1575 would help to relieve some of those pressures. “Women are dedicated voters in Maine and across the country and vote at higher rates than men,” they shared, while highlighting how LD 1575 would help to increase access and equity to the ballot for women who have less flexible job hours and additional unpaid family care responsibilities. 

Mainers for Modern Elections is a coalition committed to ensuring that our right to vote safely transcends politics and partisanship. The coalition advocates for safe, secure, modern elections and is committed to securing equitable access to the ballot for every eligible Maine voter. Members include the ACLU of Maine, League of Women Voters of Maine, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, Maine Conservation Alliance, Represent US, Center for Secure and Modern Election, the Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Equal Justice, Maine Women’s Lobby, the Maine Education Association, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989, Gateway Community Services, AARP of Maine, and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.