February 11, 2013

Our View: Panel report should end talk of voter ID in Maine

We can return to looking for ways to bring more voters into the process, not fewer.

Former Secretary of State Charlie Summers and former Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster wanted to solve the problem of voter fraud.

They had the solution -- tightening up Maine's voting laws so voters could not register on Election Day and would have to show ID at the polls.

The one thing they didn't have was any evidence of a problem.

Maine has long had laws that encourage people to vote and has been among the nation's leaders in participation. There is no record, however, that there have ever been more than a few isolated incidents of people who shouldn't have voted casting ballots.

The Republican-controlled Legislature made the mistake of outlawing Election Day registration, but that was overturned by a wide margin in a 2011 people's veto.

Summers and Webster were not dissuaded and came back last year with another bill to require voter ID.

The Legislature was careful not to make the same mistake again, and instead allowed Summers to create a commission that would look at state election practices and recommend changes if necessary. The commission is done with this work, and the report is in the hands of the new secretary of state, Matthew Dunlap.

Voter ID loses again. The panel found no evidence of enough people who shouldn't vote casting ballots to justify a law that would mean that people who should vote would be refused at the polls.

The panel found, as has been documented in national studies, that certain classes of voters would be most likely to be disenfranchised. They include senior citizens, African Americans and some young people, all of whom are the most likely not to have an ID.

The panel also recommends changing the state constitution to permit early voting, which would ease the pressure on both voters and election clerks and would prevent some long lines on Election Day.

That is the kind of reform Maine needs. The kind of reform that makes it easier for everyone to get involved in the political process.

Let's hope that Maine's experiment with the kind of reform that lowers participation and discourages voters is over.


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