If the recent Democratic Caucus on March 4 is any indication, Midcoast residents’ are eager to get out and vote.
However, that enthusiasm has, in some cases, also highlighted the need to be informed about rights, for both municipalities and residents.
Russell Long, a Bath resident, said he was denied his right to participate when he wasn’t allowed to register without a photo ID. “I said, ‘I already registered as a voter, I don’t need to produce that for you.’”
According to the Secretary of State’s office, Long was correct. He had every right to register and participate.
“You don’t need photo ID to register or to vote in Maine, you do need to provide a license number or social security number,” said Kristen Muszynski, director of communications for the Secretary of State’s office.
In Maine, she said, registering to vote only requires some form of identification, which does not need to have a photo. Identifying who you are can be done in a variety of ways, including signing a piece of paper that swears under oath.
“He should not have been denied the ability to register,” said Muszynski.
Bath Clerk Mary White serves as the registrar for the city, and was the person who denied Long’s entry. She’s been in contact with the Secretary of State’s office herself, and said the situation was a misunderstanding.
“This was taken care of through the Secretary of State’s office, they have done their reprimanding that we are not allowed to ask for a photo ID,” said White.
Long said he doesn’t plan to pursue things any further, but wanted to make sure other voters know their rights in Maine.
The ACLU has consistently fought against any sort of photo ID requirements in Maine.
“One has been proposed a number of times in the legislature, and the legislature has consistently rejected it,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine. “It’s important for people to know that they have the right to vote, they have the right to register on election day, and they don’t need a photo ID here in Maine.”
He added that despite the caucuses being run by an independent political party, and not the government, they are still subject to the same laws as a typical vote.
Those laws largely stem from past efforts to restrict certain groups – especially minorities – from voting by erecting barriers to participation in local primaries or caucuses. In the case of certain areas, particularly where only one political party was present, barriers to participation in the primaries and caucuses essentially kept people from any ability to choose candidates.
Access to the polls themselves has also become an issue, at least in Brunswick. Town Clerk Fran Smith proposed moving the polling location from Brunswick Junior High to the town’s Rec Center at Brunswick Landing at the regular town council meeting on March 5.
The move, she said, is largely due to safety concerns.
Typically, the junior high is a secure building, but on voting day it’s much more open. The school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, raised the question of whether the polling location can be changed to improve safety for students. “Looking at a day that the building is completely open is an issue that needs to be discussed,” Smith said.
The school also has limited parking that can sometimes force residents to park long distances from the entrance.
Despite those concerns, residents and some elected officials strongly opposed that proposal.
“The safety concerns at the school could be addressed by having a no-school day,” said Ben Tucker, a school board member and a former Brunswick Town Councilor. He said moving the location to Brunswick Landing would only serve to make it harder for people to get to the polls.
Stan Gerzofsky, former state senator from Brunswick, had a similar view and vehemently opposed the proposal to move the polling location.
“The more you want to make voting harder on people, the more you’re going to have people not voting,” he said.
Current District 24 Senator Brownie Carson agreed with that view, and said moving the location could serve as a deterrent, especially to seniors.
Those fears can be alleviated by absentee ballots, Smith said. Participation in absentee voting was high in Brunswick’s last election.
“We had over 50 percent of the people absentee vote. It is definitely an option … We certainly in no way wish to not have voter turnout.”
Brunswick’s Council will decide on the issue at their next regular meeting, March 19. Public comment will not be taken at the meeting, but residents are still encouraged to contact their councilors ahead of time.