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Voter Photo ID Measure Wins First Round in Maine Senate

AUGUSTA, Maine - The debate over voter ID has resurfaced at the State House - and once again it cuts along party lines. The Maine Senate has given initial approval to legislation that would require voters to present photo identification before casting their ballots. A similar measure was defeated last session, and final passage this year is far from certain.

It's a partisan issue in the Maine Senate: Republicans support the legislation, Democrats oppose it. Supporters argue that it's commonplace to require a photo ID as part of many transactions in modern society.

"You need to provide an ID in order to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, open a bank account, purchase a home, get married," said Republican Sen. Scott Cyrway, of Benton, who co-chairs the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, which considered the bill.

And fellow GOP Sen. Andre Cushing, of Hampden, told Senate colleagues that photo ID is a growing trend across the country to assure the integrity of the voting process.

"Thirty-one states, Mr. President - 31 states - now at least have some level of requirement for photographic ID in order to have your right to vote exercised."

And supporters say the bill includes a solution for those that might forget their ID:  They can cast a provisional ballot and then provide their ID within five business days of the election. The measure would also require the secretary of state to provide free identification cards to eligible persons who do not have acceptable photographic identification, such as a driver's license.

But opponents say the bill is unnecessary. "The percentage of voter fraud across the country is point-zero-zero-zero-one," said Sen. John Patrick, a Democrat from Rumford. "That, to me, is kind of small; kind of says to me there is not a problem."

And Democrat Chris Johnson, of Somerville, urged his Senate colleagues to remember that voting is a right, not a privilege. "Given the dearth of evidence that there is any fraud going on, I am more concerned that one person, one vote, means that every person does get to vote, which this bill would impede."

At the public hearing on the bill, a wide variety of groups - from the AARP to town clerks - testified in opposition to the bill. A majority of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, all Democrats, opposed the bill. And that could well mean trouble for the measure in the House, where Democrats have a comfortable majority.

 

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.