Friday, February 26, 2016

Bill to fight voter intimidation clears committee hurdle

AUGUSTA — Last Friday, a bill to fight voter intimidation by imposing reasonable limits on people video recording at polling places won the unanimous support of the 11 members present in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. 
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said the bill is a victory not only for voters, but for municipal election wardens who will now have clear direction about what activity is and is not allowed at the polling place. 

“This proactive approach gives our election wardens the authority to prevent activity that many voters feel is nothing more than intimidation,” said Sen. Diamond, who for eight years was Secretary of State and oversaw elections in Maine. “Polling places exist to facilitate the most core function of our democracy: The vote. We must be equipped to handle disruptions and keep our polls free from intimidation.”

The bill, which has the support of current Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, will not outlaw video recording at the polls. Instead, it establishes a 15-foot “minimum distance” between video recorders and the people they would record. 

On Election Day last year, voters raised concerns when political activists pointed their cameras at voters as they signed citizen initiative petitions. Those activists focused on people signing two petitions, one that would raise minimum wage and another to expand background checks for gun purchases. There were reports made to the Secretary of State that some of the activists were blocking voters paths, pointing cameras in their faces, and demanding they say their names for the camera.
Without any rules regarding video recording at the polls, election wardens felt unable to address the situation. 

The bill —LD 1574, “An Act To Protect Maine Voters from Intimidating Videotaping at the Polls” — will now head to the Senate with a bipartisan “ought to pass” report from the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.

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