Last month, Maine voters delivered a major rebuke to Gov. Paul LePage (R) and the Republican-held legislature when they approved a referendum restoring election day voting registration rights in the state. Earlier this year, state legislators passed a bill repealing the state’s 38 year-old law allowing citizens to register at the polls on election day.
Tens of thousands of Mainers responded by petitioning for the matter come to a referendum. Issue 1 was one of the most-anticipated votes on election day this year, with pundits watching closely to see how citizens would react to the Republican-led war on voting, which ramped up in states across the country this year.
Recognizing the referendum’s importance, voting rights opponents poured money into the campaign to repeal election day registration. In fact, just two days after the state’s campaign finance reporting deadline, a secret conservative donor funneled $250,000 into the race, allowing the No On 1 campaign to make significant TV ad buys in an inexpensive media market.
Per state law, however, the identity of donors must be revealed within 45 days after the election. In fact, the entire $250,000 worth of late money came from a single source: the American Justice Partnership.
The AJP is a conservative legal organization based not in Maine, but in Michigan. On their website, the group states they are fighting against “the scheming George Soros money machine” which is “trying to sabotage your right to vote,” a claim apparently made without a hint of irony. Though the AJP doesn’t disclose where its funding comes from, the Bangor Daily News notes that it has partnered with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the past, a group that has been instrumental in the proliferation of voter ID laws across the country.
The AJP’s secret $250,000 contribution ultimately accounted for over 78 percent of all the money raised by the No On 1 campaign. In other words, over three-quarters of the funding for opponents of election day registration in Maine came from Michigan. (This money was then used to run ads decrying “outsiders from other states” who were influencing the Maine election.) With Mainers of all stripes explaining to ThinkProgress why they cherish having the option to register at the polls on election day, it’s not altogether surprising that the predominance of financial support for No On 1 came from out of state.
Though AJP’s website correctly warns that “Your right to vote is at stake”, it’s groups like AJB and ALEC that are threatening that right in the first place. Maine voters stood up to the influence of voting rights opponents in November, however, passing Issue 1 by an overwhelming 61–39 margin and restoring election day registration in the Pine Tree State.