Maine is one of only 15 states that does not ask or require voters to show identification before they vote.
Sen. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta) wants to change that.
“A lot of the polling I’ve seen has really high levels of public support for the idea of having an ID to vote,” he said. “The idea being like you have to have an ID to get on a plane, why not to vote?”
Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said proof of identity and residency is required when Mainers register to vote. Requiring a photo ID on Election Day is an unnecessary extra step, she said.
“This is yet another ‘longer lines at the polls for no reason’ bill,” she said. “When people are voting, we want it to be as convenient, accessible and secure as possible.”
Pouliot’s bill is one of dozens of election-related bills that will come before the Maine Legislature this session. Others propose to prevent politicians from greeting voters outside polling places, prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes and increase security at the polls.
The idea of requiring a photo ID to vote is not new in Maine. A Republican-led committee studied the concept in 2013, ultimately deciding that “the negative aspects of a voter ID law outweigh its potential benefits.”
Yet the political landscape has changed in the last 10 years, with Republicans on the national stage falsely claiming election fraud in state and national elections.
Pouliot said that fraud isn’t an issue in Maine, but said he feels that the extra step of requiring a photo ID to vote will reassure some of those with doubts.
“The level of trust there is low,” he said. “I think at the end of the day what I would like to do is submit this bill and say I hope to increase trust in the Democratic process. Whether it’s a red herring argument or not, there can’t be an argument that this isn’t safe because everybody had their ID.”
Across the country, 18 states ask for a photo ID to vote and 17 also accept non-photo IDs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maine is one of 15 states that does not require registered voters to present documentation prior to voting on Election Day.
Pouliot’s bill would require the Secretary of State’s Office to set up a process so those who don’t already have a photo ID can get one for free. The bill lists a driver’s license, passport, military identification or permit to carry a concealed handgun as permissible types of ID.
However, it excludes IDs issued by colleges and universities.
Pouliot said he has another bill to require college students to register to vote where they file their applications for federal financial aid.
That too is another trouble spot for Bellows.
“The aspect of the bill that prohibits student IDs seems to be a backdoor attempt to undermine the Constitutional right that every Maine citizen, including students at colleges and universities, have to vote,” she said.
A public hearing on the bill is set for 10:30 a.m. Feb. 1 before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.