AUGUSTA — The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted Tuesday to block a bill that would require Maine voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot.
The House voted 82-66 to reject L.D. 197, sponsored by Sen. Ronald Collins, R-Wells, and backed by Republican leadership. Tuesday’s vote broke along party lines with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing it.
Last week the Republican-controlled Senate approved the proposal, 18-17. Two Republicans, Sens. Roger Katz, of Augusta, and Brian Langley, of Ellsworth, voted against the measure.
Republicans have argued that a voter ID law will protect against voter fraud. Democrats countered that there has been little to no evidence of election fraud in Maine and that voter ID laws are political tools designed to suppress certain voters from participating in elections.
Approximately 30 states have adopted voter ID laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The proposals have become controversial and fiercely partisan.
Republicans said the proposal was a common sense protection against fraud. Rep. Wayne Perry, R-Arundel, said photo identification is required for a number of activities, including purchasing some over-the-counter medicine.
“I don’t think it’s a real burden to have to show your ID when you go to the polls,” he said.
Democrats said the proposal would be costly for the state to implement and a burden for disabled and elderly voters. Costs would stem from the issuing of voter cards. The state would have to provide the cards free of charge to avoid a constitutional prohibition against a poll tax.
A 2013 report commissioned by the Maine secretary of state estimated that photo ID would cost between $2 million and $6 million. The same report cited voting studies that showed voter ID laws may deter 10 percent of eligible voters from participating. The report recommended against implementing a voter ID law and said a bill doing so should exempt older voters.
Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said voter ID laws were about “voter suppression, pure and simple.”
“It’s never been about voter fraud,” he said. “It never has been and it never will be.”
Hickman referenced reports from the implementation of the Wisconsin voter ID law in 2011. The reports centered on claims that Republican Gov. Scott Walker had shuttered state offices that issued the voter cards. The closed offices were in predominantly Democratic-leaning districts.
In 2011, the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to eliminate Maine’s same day voter registration, a move that was also criticized as an attempt to engineer favorable results at the ballot box. A Democratic-led ballot initiative reinstated same-day voter registration.
Tuesday’s vote to oppose L.D. 197 likely dooms its passage. Disagreements between the House and Senate are often referred to a conference committee to negotiate a potential compromise. However, proposals over which there is sharp disagreement often die when the Legislature adjourns for the session.