AUGUSTA — A legislative committee deadlocked Friday on two increasingly partisan issues: Requiring voters to show photo ID before casting ballots and eliminating public campaign financing for gubernatorial candidates.

The 6-6 votes in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee – with one lawmaker absent – means the measures will likely receive considerable debate on the House and Senate floors. In both cases, all of the committee’s Republican members voted in support of the “voter ID” bill and to stop allowing candidates for governor to receive so-called “clean elections” financing. All of the Democrats plus one independent lawmaker opposed the bills. The absent lawmaker, Bangor Rep. John Schneck, is a Democrat.

The “voter ID” bill, L.D. 121, is similar to a proposal that passed the Senate but failed in the Democratic-controlled House two years ago. The bill would require voters to display a photo identification issued by the state, the federal government, a Maine college or university, or an electronic benefits transfer – or EBT – card used for food stamps or other welfare benefits. Voters who cannot provide a photo ID could cast a provisional ballot, but that vote would only be counted if the person’s identity is subsequently confirmed.

Voter ID has become a popular issue among Republicans nationwide who argue that voters should have to provide the same level of proof that can be required of someone attempting to buy alcohol or attend an R-rated movie.

“Because of the preciousness of our right to vote, we believe it should have the same protections as something that maybe isn’t as precious,” said Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls. “We believe it will deter bad actors and we also believe it will also protect the vote of those who have followed the law.”

Opponents often portray voter ID measures as “solutions in search of a problem,” given the rarity of in-person voter fraud. They also point out that requiring a photo ID could disproportionately affect minorities, the elderly or the youngest voters.

Responding to Mason’s comments, Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said voting “is such a precious fundamental right that I don’t want there to be any barrier to that for citizens who are eligible.” Hickman, who is black, stressed that he was not impugning the motives of any supporters of this particular bill but said voter ID laws have been used historically in other states to disproportionately exclude minority voters, adding that “this is one of the ways that racism shows itself in our society.”

“It doesn’t protect against the fraud that does exist,” said Hickman. “On its face from 30,000 feet, it makes sense. But how it is implemented and applied is discriminatory. And it doesn’t just discriminate against people of color. It discriminates against all sorts of white people who cannot get an ID for whatever reason.”

Courts have offered mixed verdicts on other states’ voter ID laws. While the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Indiana law in 2008, a federal appeals ruled North Carolina’s voter ID law violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause and had a discriminatory impact on black voters.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office also opposed L.D. 121. During testimony last month, Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said she was unaware of any evidence being presented of voter impersonation at the polls in Maine during her 22 years with the agency. And during the 2009 and 2010 elections, 238 of 240 suspected cases of “dual voting” were proved to have been the result of human error. Flynn also estimated that it would cost the state roughly $581,000 to provide free, non-driver identification cards to the more than 200,000 registered voters who could not be matched with a current driver’s license.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Bradlee Farrin, R-Norridgewock, said he appreciated the committee’s civil discussion on a controversial topic.

“We come from different places, but we agree to have the conversation,” Farrin said. “And that is what makes this country great.”

Meanwhile, the public campaign financing system created by the Maine Clean Election Act also has become an increasingly partisan issue, as demonstrated by Friday’s 6-6 vote. This is despite the fact that lawmakers from both parties use the system to pay for their legislative campaigns.

L.D. 300 would have eliminated public campaign financing for future gubernatorial races in order to reduce the potential cost to taxpayers, who subsidize some but not all of the “clean elections” program. Clean elections candidates receive campaign funds from the program in exchange for not accepting donations from individuals or outside organizations, other than the minimum number of $5 “qualifying” donations needed to join the program.

Since 2002, 78 candidates have registered to run for governor but only 10 qualified as clean election candidates. None of those were elected.

Changes made by voters during a 2015 statewide referendum mean that anyone running as a clean elections gubernatorial candidate in 2018 could receive up to $1 million during the primary election and up to $2 million during the general election.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, said the commission would like to be prepared for four primary candidates and two general election candidates participating in the clean elections program during the 2018 gubernatorial race.

The commission, which administers the clean elections program, is requesting that lawmakers advance $3 million in 2019 funding to the 2018 election cycle to help cover the anticipated costs of the gubernatorial election. Additionally, the Ethics Commission is seeking an allocation of $1.7 million – money that advocates point out was siphoned out of the Maine Clean Election Fund by lawmakers for other budget items in 2015.

“I think that is going to be a real hard sell because there are a lot of opinions in the State House about whether this is worth the financial investment to pay for candidates for governor,” Wayne told commissioners on Friday.

Andrew Bossie, executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said after Friday’s 6-6 vote on L.D. 300 that lawmakers should respect the will of voters who have repeatedly embraced the public campaign financing system during ballot initiatives.

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