- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine’s Democratic-controlled House gave initial approval to a bill that would establish an in-person system for early voting in the state, but the vote fell short of the two-thirds support it will need for final passage.

The bill approved in a 92-56 vote would amend the Maine Constitution and require the Legislature to authorize a process allowing towns to establish early voting systems. If approved by two-thirds of the entire Legislature, the bill, sponsored by Standish Democrat Mike Shaw, would go before voters.

Advocates for early voting say clerks are overwhelmed because many people vote via absentee ballot prior to elections, but envelopes can’t be opened or the votes tallied until Election Day. It would also give people forced to work two or three jobs more chances to vote if they can’t get to the polling place on election day or lines are long, Shaw said.

“Send the question to voters; let them decide,” he told lawmakers.

But opponents say an early voting system will create a disparity between big cities and smaller towns, which can’t afford to implement early voting.

“We would have large cities - Lewiston, Bangor, Portland, Augusta - that would have open polls forever, almost, and you’d have many small towns in rural Maine in areas that are impoverished that wouldn’t have the same ability to simply go and vote in early voting,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport.

The bill failed to get two-thirds support of present lawmakers - required for all constitutional amendments - when it was taken up last session, but Democrats held the bill over so that it could be reconsidered in the new session. It now faces further votes in the House and Senate.

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