Don’t Raise Voting Barriers

Posted Feb. 11, 2011, at 4:50 p.m.

Maine has a long tradition of high voter turnout and negligible voter fraud. So changes to the state’s voting laws must cross a high threshold. Namely, they should solve a problem.

Two bills scheduled to be heard by the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Feb. 16 don’t meet that standard.

One, LD 199, would require voters to show a government-approved picture ID before being given a ballot. The other, LD 203, would end same-day voter registration.

If Maine had a problem with voter fraud, specifically fraud involving people saying they are someone other than their true identity in order to vote, then requiring identification could make sense. In the absence of such a problem, this bill is unnecessary.

“Maine has always relied on the honor system when it comes to voting, and I wish we could continue to do so,” said Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Unfortunately, the world has changed and voter fraud has become a fact of life.”

According to Secretary of State Charles Summers, 300 cases of voter fraud were investigated by that office after the 2008 election. Two were substantiated. Both involved voters casting ballots in more than one location.

While most voting-age residents have some type of official photo ID, not everyone does. Those without tend to be poor, disabled or elderly. Requiring these people to get an official government ID would cost them time and money, raising an unneeded barrier to their right to vote.

Legislation to require a photo ID to register to vote was rejected by lawmakers in 2007. “Municipal officials have consistently opposed bills that seek to restrict the ability of an eligible voter to cast a ballot,” Kate Dufour of MMA told lawmakers then. “Based on that history, we believe that municipal officials would find the requirements to produce photographic identification an unnecessary barrier to an individual’s voting rights.”

This is the same reason to reject the bill this time around.

LD 203 would require that Mainers be registered to vote by the Tuesday before an election. Currently, Maine is one of a handful of states that allow same-day registration. The argument for changing the law is that it will relieve a burden on town clerks.

Clerks, however, aren’t saying that same-day registration is a burden. The Maine Municipal Association and the Secretary of State’s Office testified against similar legislation in 2007.

Maine enacted its same-day registration law in 1973. In the previous year’s presidential election, Maine ranked 21st in voter turnout. In recent presidential elections, Maine was among the top states for turnout. In 2000, Maine had the highest turnout in the country.

“This change would be a huge step backward, with thousands of people being disenfranchised because they had failed to register five days before an election,” Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn told lawmakers in 2007.

That bill was defeated by the Legislature.

These bills should meet the same fate.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/02/11/opinion/don%e2%80%99t-raise-voting-barriers/ printed on December 17, 2014