AUGUSTA — Now that Maine voters have made clear their support for same-day voter registration, the focus shifts to another hot election-related proposal that will come up during the 2012 legislative session: voter ID.

The bill requiring voters to show photo identification in order to cast ballots comes up after voters rejected by a 3-2 margin Tuesday another move to tighten the state’s election laws.

That vote repealed a law requiring voters to register at least two days before an election. In doing so, voters reinstated Maine’s long-standing same-day registration policy.

“Legislators should move very cautiously in erecting any new barriers given this overwhelming vote,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. Tuesday’s tally “absolutely indicates that voters resent barriers to our constitutional voting right,” she added.

But after a voter ID bill that passed the House failed in the Senate this year, lawmakers decided to carry it over to the session that starts in January. And Republican Gov. Paul LePage believes the issue needs to be revisited, notwithstanding Tuesday’s vote, said spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.

GOP House Speaker Robert Nutting of Oakland does not believe Tuesday’s vote should have an impact on the voter ID bill, but it’s too early to tell whether it will, said spokesman Jim Cyr.

The voter ID bill should be considered on its own merits, he added. Nutting expects the bill to have a full review.

The voter ID bill had more than 80 co-sponsors — all Republicans — when Rep. Richard Cebra introduced it.

The Naples Republican sees his proposal as a reasonable, constitutionally sound means to protect Maine elections from fraud. He also dismisses assertions that such laws deprive citizens of their right to vote.

Cebra’s views were shared by several people who testified before the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee this year.

“While my hometown of Rockport is small and many of its voting residents are known on sight or by our town clerk and poll workers, in larger towns and cities that is not the case,” Helen Shaw told the committee.

State Rep. Ben Chipman, an independent from Portland, said that he views the proposal to require IDs as he viewed the rejected law eliminating same-day registration — a solution in search of a problem.

“I’m strongly opposed to any type of measures that make it harder for people to vote,” said Chipman, who serves on the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee that will take up the bill again in January. “We don’t have a problem.”

Chipman said his downtown district has its share of low-income residents and transients who may have a hard time satisfying an ID requirement. For some low-income residents, he said, just getting to the motor vehicle registry office and paying $5 for a state photo ID is a significant barrier.

Others who have a photo ID, but don’t have it with them when they show up to vote will get turned away, Chipman said. In a presidential election year, he doubts many voters will return after waiting in a long line and then being told to go get an ID.

With very few cases of actual voter fraud in Maine, Chipman said, “I don’t know why this would be a priority for anyone.”

Chipman also thinks it’s kind of silly to require election clerks to check a photo ID, as the bill would mandate, even if they’ve known the voter for years.

The Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association was neither for nor against the bill. It said that while such a law might irritate some voters and cause a slowdown checking in voters, it could discourage fraud. Clerks also noted that such a law shouldn’t create major issues because most people carry a license.

The Maine bill remains on the legislative agenda as Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin join the states that passed voter ID laws this year. Voters in Mississippi endorsed a constitutional amendment to require that voters present government-issued identification at the polls.

A wave of those and other voting restrictions across the country has set off alarms among groups that monitor voting issues. The newly erected barriers keep millions of potential voters from casting ballots, says the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a nonpartisan public policy organization.

Just days ago, civil rights, minority and labor groups announced a series of protests around the country Dec. 10 to highlight what they see as a nationwide voter suppression effort.

In Maine, Bellows said she finds Cebra’s voter ID bill worrisome in many respects. For example, someone with a perfectly valid ID who has moved shortly before an election might be denied a vote because an address on the most common picture ID, the driver’s license, doesn’t match the one on the voter clerk’s list.

She sees as the most vulnerable under voter ID people who recently moved or who move a lot, but Bellows also says seniors and disabled are two other groups that stand to be affected by such a law.

Maine House Democratic Leader Emily Cain of Orono opposes such a law but says voter ID will get a full review in the State House. “Voter ID will have a fair hearing and fair process, obviously,” said Cain.

But she also believes the vote to restore same-day registration shows that Mainers believe the existing election laws work well and “that the policies pushed by Republican legislators and the governor were overwhelmingly out of touch with Maine voters.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this story.


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