VOTING IN MAINE

November 13, 2011

New effort to tighten election law

Republicans say measure needed to combat fraud

BY GLENN ADAMS, Associated Press

AUGUSTA-- Now that Maine voters have made clear their support for same-day voter registration, the focus shifts to another hot election-related proposal that will come up during the 2012 legislative session: voter ID.

The bill requiring voters to show photo identification in order to cast ballots comes up after voters rejected by a 3-2 margin Tuesday another move to tighten the state's election laws.

That vote repealed a law requiring voters to register at least two days before an election. In doing so, voters reinstated Maine's long-standing same-day registration policy.

"Legislators should move very cautiously in erecting any new barriers given this overwhelming vote," said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Maine. Tuesday's tally "absolutely indicates that voters resent barriers to our constitutional voting right," she added.

But after a voter ID bill that passed the House failed in the Senate this year, lawmakers decided to carry it over to the session that starts in January. And Republican Gov. Paul LePage believes the issue needs to be revisited, notwithstanding Tuesday's vote, said spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.

GOP House Speaker Robert Nutting of Oakland does not believe Tuesday's vote should have an impact on the voter ID bill, but it's too early to tell whether it will, said spokesman Jim Cyr.

The voter ID bill should be considered on its own merits, he added. Nutting expects the bill to have a full review.

The voter ID bill had more than 80 co-sponsors -- all Republicans -- when Rep. Richard Cebra introduced it.

The Naples Republican sees his proposal as a reasonable, constitutionally sound means to protect Maine elections from fraud. He also dismisses assertions that such laws deprive citizens of their right to vote.

Cebra's views were shared by several people who testified before the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee this year.

"While my hometown of Rockport is small and many of its voting residents are known on sight or by our town clerk and poll workers, in larger towns and cities that is not the case," Helen Shaw told the committee.

The Maine Town and City Clerks' Association was neither for nor against the bill. It said that while such a law could irritate some voters and cause a slowdown checking in voters, it could discourage fraud. Clerks also noted that such a law shouldn't create major issues because most people carry a license.

The Maine bill remains on the legislative agenda as Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin join the states that passed voter ID laws this year. Voters in Mississippi endorsed a constitutional amendment to require that voters present government-issued identification at the polls.

A wave of those and other voting restrictions across the country has set off alarms among groups that monitor voting issues. The newly erected barriers keep millions of potential voters from casting ballots, says the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a nonpartisan public policy organization.

Just days ago, civil rights, minority and labor groups announced a series of protests around the country Dec. 10 to highlight what they see as a nationwide voter suppression effort.

In Maine, Bellows said she finds Cebra's voter ID bill worrisome in many respects. For example, someone with a perfectly valid ID who has moved shortly before an election might be denied a vote because an address on the most common picture ID, the driver's license, doesn't match the one on the voter clerk's list.

She sees as the most vulnerable under voter ID people who recently moved or who move a lot, but Bellows also says seniors and disabled are two other groups that stand to be affected by such a law.

Maine House Democratic Leader Emily Cain of Orono opposes such a law but says voter ID will get a full review in the State House.

"Voter ID will have a fair hearing and fair process, obviously," said Cain.

But she also believes the vote to restore same-day registration shows that Mainers believe the existing election laws work well and "that the policies pushed by Republican legislators and the governor were overwhelmingly out of touch with Maine voters."

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