Wednesday, May 22, 2013
A state panel had a lot of good ideas to improve elections in Maine at a public hearing last week in Augusta, but they may not have been the ones they were looking for.
The Commission to Study Election Practices in Maine should learn that there are improvements that Maine could make to its election practices, but voter ID isn't one of them.
2011 Press Herald file/Shawn Patrick Ouellette
Scheduled hearings for the Commission to Study Election Practices:
Portland: 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Portland Public Library in the Rines Auditorium
Bangor: 5:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at Bangor City Hall
Farmington: 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the University of Maine Farmington Olsen Student Center Dining Hall
Lewiston: 5:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at Lewiston High School
Wells: 5:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at York County Community College in the Mid-Cafe
Source: Maine Secretary of State
The five-member Commission to Study Election Practices in Maine was created this year when legislative supporters for a voter ID law realized they were headed to defeat.
The panel is charged with taking testimony at six public hearings around the state and will report back to Secretary of State Charlie Summers, who is a backer of voter ID and also the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.
The panel should learn that there are improvements that Maine could make to its election practices, but voter ID isn't one of them. The state should be working to get more people to the polls and forget about an idea that would turn legitimate voters away from them.
Voter ID has been presented as the fix for a system that Summers declared is "vulnerable" to fraud. Despite this vulnerability, he was only able to discover a single case of illegal voting in a sample of 500 questionable voters he studied.
Some would argue that an election can turn on just one vote, but that's also the argument against changing the law. People shouldn't lose the right to vote because they are elderly, disabled, very poor or homeless, but creating a requirement that will force them to acquire the documents necessary to get a state ID will mean that some of them will not be able to vote.
If there was a widespread problem with fraud, we might be convinced that losing those votes would be an acceptable cost to preserve the integrity of the system.
But with no evidence of fraud, we have to ask why this idea is even up for discussion.
The answer appears to have very little to do with Maine. According to the National Association of State Legislatures, voter ID was the hottest topic of legislative business in the nation last year. Voter ID bills were introduced in 34 states, including Maine.
That wave speaks not to widespread fraud, but to a national effort to redraw election practices in a way to favor one party. Voter ID is a canned election reform distributed to the states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-financed association that develops model legislation for conservative lawmakers. Maine's voter ID law was not created to fix a problem here, but as part of a national effort to help Republican candidates.
We hope the panel will hear from Mainers and come up with ideas that would truly improve our election practices. That could include giving town clerks better access to the state voter database so they have the most up-to-date information on Election Day. It might also include creating a motor-voter-type program for high school graduates and new citizens so that they register automatically.
What Maine does not need is an attempt to make voting more difficult and less inclusive. That's what more than 60 percent of voters said last year when they killed a Republican plan to end same-day registration.
Mainers should show up for the remaining public hearings and speak out for the kind of election system improvements we really need.