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Maine Special Commission Rejects Voter ID
02/06/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

A special commission studying Maine's election system has given a firm thumbs down to the suggestion that Maine adopt voter ID.  The Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine, which was appointed last May, released its findings today.  Tom Porter has more. 

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"This is an excellent report," says Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.  Dunlap gives high marks to the Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine, which was appointed last May, and came to its findings after holding eight public hearings,

"They worked very, very hard on it," Dunlap says. "And it's a reflection of some very, very honest work, based on feedback they got at their hearings."

Dunlap told members of the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that the he agreed with commission's 4 to 1 vote to reject voter ID, a measure that would require voters to present identification before they cast a ballot.

It's an  issue that had been kep alive by the very creation of the commission, set up by former Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers last May.

"We certainly hope that this report lays to rest the controversies about voting rights that have taken place in Maine over the last couple of years," says Shenna  Bellows, executive director of the Maine branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Bellows says voters rejected a proposed same-day voter registration requirement back in 2011, and have made their feelings clear. "Maine voters have expressed that they want to protect the franchise and make it easier not harder to vote."

And Bellows says the new report also lays to rest what she believes has been another myth about Maine's election system. "One of the things that the commission found in this report is that there's little or no evidence of voter fraud," she says. "Maine elections work very well."

That's a viewpoint upheld by a study just released by the Pew Charitable Trust. It examines electoral practices state-by-state, lookng at factors like polling location wait times, the online availability of voting information, the number of rejected voter registrations and the percentage of voters with registration or absentee ballot problems.

Senior Research Analyst at Pew, Sean Greene, says Maine did well. "Maine was in the top 20 percent of states in 2008, and was in the top third of states in 2010," Greene says. "The index looks at baseline of data from the 2008 and 2010 election cycles."

Maine's good performance notwithstanding, the Elections Commission does suggest improvements in the system. The report calls for expanding the practice of early voting. Not to be confused with absentee balloting, early voting allows voting in person at a polling place ahead of Election Day. There have been pilot projects allowing this, and the report says their success indicates that it should become the norm statewide. This measure - supported by Secretary Dunlap, and by civil liberties advocates, would require a constitutional amendment.

Not all the report's recommendations were well received. For example, both the secretary of state and the ALCU take issue with a proposal that would further restrict residency requirements. The ACLU's Shenna Bellows fears this could have a chilling effect.

"We have concerns that any attempts to tighten residency requirements will have the impact of discouraging young people from voting," she says.



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