No Photo, No Vote

Posted Aug. 13, 2010, at 7:57 p.m.

You probably have to produce a drivers license or photo ID to write a check at the local convenience store, and sometimes you need it to cash a check at your bank. Buy a drink at a bar or alcohol at the store and you’ll be asked to show a photo ID — at least if you are under 30. Yet in Maine, people can vote without such identification.

Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, has introduced a bill that would require a photo ID to vote.

“Maine has always relied on the honor system when it comes to voting, and I wish we could continue to do so,” Rep. Cebra said in an announcement about the bill. “Unfortunately, the world has changed and voter fraud has become a fact of life. … We cannot allow the integrity of our elections to be diminished by fraud or a lax system full of potential loopholes.”

It’s not likely that Maine has suffered widespread voter fraud, and Rep. Cebra’s reference in his announcement to the now-disgraced ACORN smacks of partisanship. But that aside, asking someone to produce a photo ID — driver’s license, student ID, state ID or other such form or identification — is not terribly onerous, given what is at stake.

Several years ago, a Bangor Daily News reporter found that he was registered to vote — and presumably, could have voted — in Rockland, Camden, Belfast and Monroe, towns in which he had lived over the previous 10 years.

A developing state voter database will purge the names of those registered in more than one community, and likely will solve other problems. But at the heart of the voting process is the identification made at the polling place. Without a photo ID, it is possible for political activists to use the names of recently deceased people to vote.

The concerns of those who will oppose Rep. Cebra’s bill are legitimate, and they are not hypothetical. From the post-Civil War era through the 1960s, states used arduous voter requirements to effectively block participation by minorities and the poor. Some Mainers do not have driver’s licenses, college or state IDs.

Eight states currently require photo IDs to vote, and 18 others require some form of identification. Voters who fail to present the proper identification in these states can still cast their ballots, but they are considered provisional until the identity is ascertained.

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision upheld a challenge to Indiana’s voter law requiring a photo ID, with the majority ruling stating “we cannot conclude that the statute imposes excessively burdensome requirements on any class of voters.”

Rep. Cebra’s bill, the details of which will be fleshed out when the Legislature returns, is likely to pass the same constitutional muster and is worth consideration.

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