Three Republican-backed bills that would require Maine voters to show a photo ID before casting ballots were voted down along party lines by a key legislative committee Wednesday.

The measures were defeated on 8-5 votes, with majority Democrats on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee united in opposition. All would have required a photo ID, but they differed in details such as the kinds of photo IDs that could be used.

The three bills, which go to the full Legislature for votes later this year, come as Republican-controlled legislatures across the U.S. are pushing for changes to voting laws that critics say will strip or erode voting rights for minorities, the elderly and the impoverished.

A national analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union has identified some 250 “voter suppression” bills before legislatures in 45 states. According to the ACLU, the bills would make it harder for people to register to vote, vote by mail or vote in person.

Conservatives say new voting laws are necessary to restore confidence in U.S. elections. The push for these comes after a presidential election in which a record number of voters cast ballots, and former Republican President Donald Trump made baseless claims of voter fraud and election-official malfeasance.

“If you can’t buy cigarettes without an ID but you can go vote without one, we have a problem,” said Rep. Josanne Dolloff, R-Milton Township, in support of Maine voter ID requirements.

Eighteen states have adopted photo ID requirements for voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Democrats in Maine have consistently opposed such measures, including in 2017 and 2019, when they also held majorities, and one that had been introduced earlier will likely be defeated again this year.

The committee also rejected an amendment to one of the bills that would have required voters to show an identification document acceptable as proof of residence for voter registration. This could include documents that do not bear a photo of the voter, such as a utility bill.

Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, who authored the amendment, said his proposed change to the photo-identification bill would set the “lowest bar possible” for ballot access, but he failed to gain any Democratic support. Corey said a pair of recent national polls show majority support for a photo identification requirement for voting.

A fourth bill, L.D. 1099, was rejected unanimously by the committee. It would not only require photo identification at the polls, but would also strip voting rights from incarcerated Mainers.

Maine is just one of two states – Vermont being the other – that allow those in prison or jail to vote. The District of Columbia also allows inmates to vote.

Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, one of only three Black lawmakers in the Maine Legislature, said it was telling that the two whitest states and the blackest city in the U.S. allow prisoners to exercise their constitutional rights. Hickman said the committee had a chance to show unity on the issue by voting unanimously to reject the bill. He said the “most repugnant” part was repealing voting rights for inmates.

Maine, like other states, has a disproportionate number of Black inmates. Blacks make up less than 2 percent of the state’s total population but account for nearly 7 percent of the state’s prison population, according to a recent report of the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative, which tracks state-by-state incarceration rates.

“We have an opportunity for racial unity like never before, if we come together and defeat this bill,” Hickman said.

But some Republicans who joined Hickman in voting against the bill expressed frustration that their concerns over election integrity were being framed in racial terms.

“Just because folks have some different views as to how some of these voter laws should be realized and put forward, they don’t all have a racial tone to them about where our beliefs are,” said Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock. “I am still voting against this bill but it has nothing to do with racial motivation or anything along those lines.”


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