AUGUSTA – A law that would require Maine voters to present photo identification for every election is still before the Legislature, though it has failed to gain the two-thirds support it needs for passage. While a majority of senators voted against the bill, lawmakers eventually decided to send it back to committee for revision.

Also uncertain is the fate of a recently passed bill that would eliminate Maine’s 38-year-old law allowing same-day voter registration, with at least one group vowing to lead a people’s veto campaign against it.

Opponents say both measures are part of a nationwide Republican effort to restrict voting by certain populations.

“Voter suppression bills have been advanced in states all across the country with the effect of surely reducing voter turnout in the next elections,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

She said the bills would affect young voters, elderly voters and those who struggle to get time off from work to vote.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 20 states that had no voter ID laws at the beginning of 2011 have considered such measures, and 13 that required some form of identification have considered bills to require photo IDs at the polls.

Maine has been one of only eight states to allow same-day registration.

Supporters of the Maine bills, including Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Republican legislative leaders, say the bills are intended to maintain integrity at the polls and prevent fraud.

The bill to require photo IDs, L.D. 199, has been deemed a “state mandate” because of the cost for cities and towns to implement it, so it needs two-thirds approval by the House and Senate.

It passed with a simple majority in the House and failed in the Senate, with 19 votes in opposition to 15 votes in support. But three of the five Republican senators who voted against the bill also voted against killing it.

“I had a couple of concerns,” said Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, who voted against both passage and defeat, along with Brian Langley of Ellsworth and David Trahan of Waldoboro.

Rector said the measure seemed to be based on anecdotal evidence of voter fraud without anything “substantive.”

“If we do anything that ends up discouraging eligible voters in any way, that’s counterproductive as well,” he said.

Rector said his party’s leaders thought L.D. 199 could benefit from more work, so he agreed to send it back to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee for reconsideration next year.

“It seemed to me that sending it back to committee was a benign act to let us look at the issue of voter integrity more holistically,” he said.

Bellows said Republicans delayed the bill because they knew they didn’t have the votes to pass it.

“Delaying it one more year isn’t going to change the fact that this proposal is going to cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars and only accomplish making it more difficult for people to vote,” she said.

Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is expected to sign another election bill, L.D. 1376, into law early next week.

The president of the League of Women Voters of Maine said Friday that her organization plans to gather signatures to put the portion of the law that eliminates same-day registration on November’s ballot for a people’s veto.

Barbara McDade said her group has no objection to the portion of the legislation that prohibits people from voting absentee in the days immediately before the election.

If the league does file a people’s veto petition, according to the Maine Constitution, the part of the law that it targets will be suspended.

Both L.D. 199 and L.D. 1376, have caused a rift between Republicans and Democrats.

Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, had a harsh response to claims that his GOP counterpart, Charlie Webster, made last week to Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz, that “Many of us believe that the Democrats intentionally steal elections.”

“It’s absurd. It’s fact-free. It’s fear-mongering,” Grant said. “Frankly, I think it’s shameful to cast that type of aspersion without having the evidence to back it up.”

In an interview Friday, Webster said he doesn’t think Democrats are helping people vote twice or literally shipping in people who are registered to vote in other states to vote in Maine.

“What I believe is that the Democrats have not been particularly cautious in explaining to people that if you aren’t a Maine resident you can’t vote,” he said.

Some Maine Republicans have long resented the fact that many students from out of state who come to Maine for college vote here. Webster argues that eliminating same-day registration would ensure that more voters are “legitimate.”

Grant said changing the law is a transparent attempt to suppress voting by college students.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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