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Maine Bill to Require Photo ID at the Polls Dies in Committee
02/03/2012   Reported By: Josie Huang

Republicans in the Legislature today sidestepped a potentially explosive fight over voting rights. GOP members of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee agreed to drop language in a bill requiring voters to produce state-approved photo identification at the polls. Critics of the idea said it could keep some people from the polls, particularly the elderly.

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Republicans in the Legislature today sidestepped a potentially explosive fight over voting rights. GOP members of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee agreed to drop language in a bill requiring voters to produce state-approved photo identification at the polls. Critics of the idea said it could keep some people from the polls, particularly the elderly.

Put in its place was a resolve calling on the Secretary of State to study changes that might need to be made to Maine's election system, "So that when we do do something there won't be this tugging back and forth and running out to a people's veto," says Republican Committee member Sen. Deb Plowman of Hampden.

Plowman is referring to a vote that happened over another voting rights issue. In November, Maine voters soundly overturned a new law pushed by Republicans that banned the decades-old practice of allowing Election Day voter registration.

Republicans had taken some lessons away from that experience. "There was more of a move to make sure that when we come out we come out with all of our ducks in a row, and that that did not happen with the last bill," Plowman says. "It got a lot of bad coverage, not coverage so much as presentation of the issues--it wasn't done well at all."

The original bill had more than 80 GOP co-sponsors when lead sponsor, state Rep. Rich Cebra of Naples, introduced it last year, as a way to prevent voter fraud. Critics, though, said it would discourage voter participation.

"The voters spoke pretty resoundingly last November that they did not appreciate our committee messing with the election system, and I think that's the message that we come home with today," says Democratic state Rep. Diane Russell from Portland, another committee member. "The system works, the people support making sure people can vote, and I think Republicans made the right decision to make sure that the Voter ID aspect is not part of the final bill."

Signs that the bill was in trouble were immediately apparent after the public's restoration of Election Day voter registration, with even some Republican supporters questioning the wisdom of pursuing voter ID, given that vote.

Secretary of State Charlie Summers last week met with committee members and
recommended taking a bigger-picture view of the election system.

"Rather than nibble around the edges, with one bill here, one bill there, why don't we not take those steps and allow time for a comprehensive review of our electoral system, and then report back to the 126th Legislature on our findings and suggested changes if any," Summers said.

But Shenna Bellows of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine challenged the need for legislators to call for a study. "In these difficult economic times, it's irresponsible to waste taxpayer resources on a study to tell the secretary of state to do his job. It is not necessary to use a study to fix clerical errors or administrative errors," Bellows says.

Summers says his primary concern is people voting when they shouldn't be. He says his office is actively investigating instances of non-citizens participating in elections.

If the full Legislature agrees that a report on the election system is in order, it would be presented to lawmakers in February 2013.



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