Don’t let vote challengers intimidate you at the polls

The political campaigns in Maine are making their final push toward Election Day.

For most campaigns, the focus is on encouraging their supporters to go to the polls. The operations are usually called GOTV, which stands for Get Out the Vote.

The tactics are well known: Making phone calls, knocking on doors, arranging transportation for people who need a ride to their voting place.

But not every campaign is focused on turning out voters.

Elections are all about numbers. The person or the cause with the most votes wins. Period.

And some campaigns decide that their best chance to win is to suppress the vote from their opponents. Voter suppression is an ugly business that’s often wrapped in shiny words like “integrity” and “security.”

But the truth is different. It’s an organized effort to make it harder for eligible voters to cast a ballot.

Last year, Maine voters overwhelmingly rejected a new law that would have made it much more difficult for thousands of voters to participate in elections. The law, which eliminated same-day voter registration, could have meant that as many as 50,000 eligible Maine voters would have been turned away at their polling places this year.

The voters who would have been most affected by that bad law were low-income families that move often, first-time and student voters, the elderly, people with disabilities and minorities.

I worked on the campaign to protect voting rights and am grateful that 60 percent of Maine voters stood up for the right of all eligible residents to have their voices heard.

Around the country, there have been efforts to require government-issued identification for voting and other changes with only one real purpose: To keep some people from voting.

But the efforts don’t stop there.

I received a volunteer recruitment email from the Androscoggin County Republican Party.

“The Maine GOP is planning to have an extensive Get Out the Vote effort here in Androscoggin County and we need as many volunteers as possible,” the email says.

The email outlines the plans. Organizers aren’t looking for people to provide rides to the polls or knock on doors in their neighborhood, although maybe that’s happening, too.

Instead, they are looking for “strikers” and “challengers.”

Strikers are “responsible for standing in proximity to voter check-in lines. Listening to the election worker and voter, strikers will electronically strike people that have cast ballots from our voter list.”

Challengers are responsible for witnessing new voter registration and questioning eligibility.

According to the email, the party has identified 12 polling places in Lewiston and Auburn to target. Bet on polling places close to colleges to be on the list.

The email suggests that this effort extends beyond Androscoggin County.

There are a couple of goals for the strikers and challengers.

The first is to keep a real-time list of people who have already voted. By marking voters off a master list, the other volunteers can focus on people who haven’t voted yet instead of making contact with people who have already visited the polls.

For the challenger, the goal is to make it harder for new voters to register. The challengers are masked with the job of making sure that clerks are following election law.

But there’s more to it than that.

If you’ve ever been to vote at a polling place with a striker, you know what I’m talking about.

It’s creepy to step up to get your ballot and know that those folks sitting right there are listening as you give your name and marking you off a list. For a first-time voter or someone who might be intimidated by the whole process, it’s a turn-off to voting.

And the challengers are even worse. Imagine if you went to register and vote on Election Day and someone standing – someone not with the clerk’s office – questioned whether you are who you say you are or if you live where you say you live?

The challengers don’t want new voters to register and to participate. They put added pressure on the system, to slow down the process and push people away.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine will be providing voter protection services on Election Day. If you run into a problem at the polls, you can call them for help at 774-5444.

Maine’s elections are well run and secure, and Maine voters participate in high numbers. Our state consistently ranks among the best in the country for voter participation.

And the rules for voting are simple: You have to be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the municipality where you want to vote.

Elections are decided by the people who vote. On Tuesday, make sure your voice is heard.