Election changes spurred by COVID-19 may become permanent

Mon, 05/17/2021 - 8:30am

    AUGUSTA — Legislation supported by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows that would make permanent many of the innovative measures the State put in place for voting during the pandemic passed in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee by a 5-4 vote, with four members absent.

    The bill, LD 1363 "An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Elections," was sponsored by Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, on behalf of Secretary Bellows.

    “We've heard from Maine voters and local election officials that many of the changes enacted in 2020 to protect health, safety, and access to the ballot were beneficial, and were excited to continue them in future elections,” said Secretary Bellows. “Maine has a long history of leading the way on conducting free and fair elections with robust participation, and LD 1363 keeps us on that path.” 

    “Maine’s election laws are among the strongest in the nation, and we enjoy consistently high voter turnout,”  said Sen. Luchini, who serves as Senate Chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “This bill will ensure even more voters can exercise their rights in a way that is safe and accessible, and that election officials will have the guidance and support they need to securely process ballots. I'm grateful to my fellow committee members for their diligent work on this bill.” 

    The State provided partial reimbursement for installation of ballot drop boxes at municipal offices across the state, both of which assisted voters in safely and confidently participating in the statewide elections in 2020. LD 1363 will put the procedures for using absentee ballot drop boxes into law.

    The Secretary of States Office also provided guidance for clerks to make every attempt to cure absentee ballot defects with the voter before rejecting the ballot, to ensure that those unfamiliar with the process would not be unnecessarily denied their right to vote. A cure process is also included in LD 1363.

    Additionally, LD 1363 requires the Secretary of State’s office to continue the use of the online absentee ballot tracker that was implemented in 2020, so voters can confirm when their ballot is provided to them by their town or city clerk, and when it has been successfully received for processing.

    Secretary Bellows supports additional improvements to Maines election processes currently under consideration by the Legislature, such as launching an online voter registration portal, allowing seniors and Mainers with disabilities to apply for ongoing absentee ballot status, and instituting risk-limiting election audits. These efforts would serve to improve convenience for voters and confidence in the States elections processes.

    “Making the voting process more convenient and secure is one of my top priorities as Secretary of State,” said Secretary Bellows. “Mainers are accustomed to having the option to conduct nearly all of their life's business online — banking, grocery shopping, medical appointments, vehicle registrations, even vehicle purchases and its a reasonable expectation that voters should be able to register to vote online as well, as voters in 40 other states already can.” 

    LD 1126, An Act To Update the Voter Registration Process, from Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, a bill to implement online voter registration in Maine by November 2023, passed in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee in April with 8 of 13 committee members voting in favor of the bill.

    Additionally, the Governor’s office expanded processing time for absentee ballots in 2020, allowing clerks a full week to handle the unprecedented influx of absentee ballots and thereby avoiding delays in election results reporting. This provision was passed into law earlier this legislative session.