AUGUSTA, Maine — The prospect of requiring voters in Maine to show photo identification before receiving a ballot suffered what could be a fatal blow Tuesday when Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against it.

LD 197, which failed in a 82-66 vote Monday, is similar to several attempts in the Maine Legislature in recent years to implement a voter ID law. All of the House Democrats voted against the bill, along with four of the five House independents and two Republicans, Rep. Jonathan Kinney, R-Limington, and Rep. John Joseph Picchiotti, R-Fairfield.

The measure passed in the Senate last week by an 18-17 vote.

As in past years, Tuesday’s debate centered on whether requiring photo identification would help reduce voter fraud, whether voter fraud actually exists and whether the measure is merely a veiled attempt to suppress voting in certain blocs, such as young people and senior citizens.

Across the country, Republicans have been pushing voter ID laws for years. Thirty-one states currently require some form of photo identification at the polls.

“This type of legislation keeps people from voting and reduces voter turnout,” said Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, who chairs the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Democrats on that committee voted in the majority against the bill.

“The majority of us didn’t feel it would be appropriate to place a hurdle in front of someone’s fundamental and constitutional right to vote,” said Luchini.

Republicans disagreed and said the use of and requirement for photo identification is so ubiquitous in society that requiring it at the polls would affect hardly anyone.

“Most people in Maine drive to the polls so they have their license,” said Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel. “I don’t think it’s a real burden to show your ID when you go to the polls.”

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, disagreed and outlined numerous instances across the U.S. in recent years of people — including veterans and former lawmakers — who have been denied their right to vote because they didn’t have a valid photo ID.

“We don’t have a problem to solve with voter ID,” said Russell. “I don’t want to have Maine become one of those states that has the public headline that says we denied a World War II veteran the right to vote.”

Rep. Thomas Longstaff, D-Waterville, suggested that implementing the law would come at a steep financial cost to the state and could legally constitute a poll tax because acquiring an ID is not free.

“This would be a very expensive way to solve a very small problem,” he said.

With the House and Senate now in disagreement on the bill, the measure heads back to the Senate, which can either stand down and agree with the House, effectively killing the bill, or try to insist that the House make another effort to pass it.

Avatar

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.