Maine looks to become the latest state to embrace an increasingly popular initiative for boosting turnout in elections: automatic voter registration.
The Democratic-majority state Senate voted, 19-14 along party lines, for its own so-called AVR bill on Monday. As soon as Wednesday afternoon the senators were expected to cast an identical vote for similar legislation approved last week in the Democratic state House. After a budgetary review, the bill would go to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills for her expected signature.
Under the bill, starting in January 2022, eligible Mainers who have not registered in their municipalities would be automatically added to the voter rolls when doing business with the motor vehicle bureau or another agency that collects similar information – unless they ask to opt out.
Republicans in Augusta have been united in opposition to AVR. The conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center says it would open elections to "potential fraud and abuse," citing California's mistaken addition of hundreds of voters to the rolls last year.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have adopted automatic voter registration in time for the 2020 presidential election.
The liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice, which promotes easier ballot access, says that in each state where AVR has been in effect for a while, registration has increased well above what it would have been otherwise. The biggest gain was in Georgia, where between 2014 and last fall the rolls swelled to almost 7 million from 6 million — what the center calculated as a 94 percent increase above what would have happened without automatic registration.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program assists military members who need to vote via absentee ballot. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department said there would be "minimal disruptions" if the United States pulls out of the international postage agency.
Election officials are growing increasingly concerned that the Trump administration's trade war with China could make it more difficult and expensive for overseas voters — including those in the military — to cast ballots in the 2019 and 2020 local, state and federal elections.
The issue is the pending withdrawal in October by the U.S. from the Universal Postal Union, a group of 192 nations that has governed international postal service and rates for 145 years.
Last October, the U.S. gave the required one-year notice stating it would leave the UPU unless changes were made to the discounted fees that China pays for shipping small packages to the United States. The subsidized fees — established years ago to help poor, developing countries — place American businesses at a disadvantage and don't cover costs incurred by the U.S. Postal Service.
With the U.S.-imposed deadline for withdrawal or new rates fast approaching, states officials are running out of time to prepare for overseas mail-in voting.
Wambui Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to regulate the raising and spending of electoral campaign funds. Originally from Connecticut, Gatheru, 24, joined the American Promise staff in 2017 after graduating from the University of Connecticut.
The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
What's the tweet-length description of your organization?
American Promise is a cross-partisan organization committed to getting money out of politics, forever, with a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Knocking door-to-door in my small town in Connecticut when Barack Obama was first running for president.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
Being a part of the effort that made New Hampshire the 20th state in favor of the 28th Amendment. This was something I'd been working on since I started at American Promise two years ago, and the legislation was just passed in March of this year. It was a surreal victory because it had been such a long fight. It took a lot of coordination on every level of civic engagement, but it's a victory I'm happy to have been a part of here at American Promise.