AUGUSTA, Maine – By a single vote, the Maine Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would require voters to produce a photographic identification at the polls when voting.

The 18-17 vote followed a lively floor debate in which Republican supporters of the bill argued protecting the integrity of the state’s voting system was their primary objective.

If the bill, LD 197, were to pass into law, Maine would become the 32nd state to require some form of photo identification at the polls.

The bill’s sponsors said that voting should be treated the same as other activities that require proof of identity, including buying alcohol, cigarettes or being allowed to vote in a union election.

“Does not the privilege of voting deserve to be protected in the same manner?” Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, asked his colleagues.

But opponents said the requirement would create unnecessary barriers for some prospective voters.

Sen. Nathan Libby, D-Lewiston, said his city’s clerk offered testimony against the bill, noting she believed it would disenfranchise many voters, especially elderly, poor and disabled citizens.

“This is going to make their ability to exercise their right, not their privilege, to cast their ballot more difficult,” Libby said.

Other opponents said the bill was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist and noted that the Legislature has previously rejected attempts to require photo identification at the polls.

“Here we go again — deja vu all over,” Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said. “Another attempt to find a solution that is not a real problem.”

Patrick went on to say Maine is frequently heralded nationally for its high voter turnout and its well-run election process.

The legislation does allow a person without identification to cast a provisional ballot and gives them five days to produce identification to election officials in order to have the ballot validated.

The measure also includes a cost as it provides for free state identification cards for those who cannot afford to pay the state fee for that service.

“It is incredulous that we would claim that there is no voter fraud in Maine,” Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, the Senate majority leader said. “This is a way to crack down on that and protect the integrity of the election process in Maine.”

The bill will next go to the House of Representatives where it face an uphill battle with the Democratic majority there.

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Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.