Mayor of Lewiston
A good rule for anyone working in government is “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are enough problems for any good legislator, mayor or city council member to worry about these days without adding to the list.
On the list of problems facing Augusta right now is Maine’s budget shortfall, the higher-than-usual unemployment rate, an infrastructure badly in need of repair and numerous attacks on the environmental protections that have made Maine a top destination for travelers and a green leader for the whole country.
One problem that isn’t on the list is voter fraud. Maine has had just two cases of voter fraud in the past 30 years. We have a strong election system and the second-highest rate of voter participation in the country, second only to Minnesota. In Presidential election years, almost 80 percent of registered voters cast ballots, and that’s something we can be proud of.
Why then, are some legislators trying to weaken our elections system? There are two bills in the works that would make significant changes to how Mainers vote. One would ban same-day registration and require that people register a week or even more before an election.
The other would require that voters show a photo ID at the polls, possibly even a state driver’s license. Both bills are now before the Legal and Veterans Affairs committee. Several local legislators serve on this committee, including Rep. Michel Beaulieu (R-Auburn) and Rep. Michael Carey (D-Lewiston).
The official titles of the bills are: “An Act to Strengthen Maine’s Election Laws by Requiring Photograph Identification for the Purpose of Voting” (LD 199) and “An Act to Assist Municipal Clerks by Providing Adequate Time to Register Voters” (LD 203).
Why mess with a system that works? Both of these bills are solutions in search of problems. Our elections system doesn’t have any problems. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!
There are serious negative consequences to these bills. They cost money that the state doesn’t have. Since a law similar to the Photo ID bill was passed in Indiana in 2007, its cost them over $10 million dollars to provide free photo IDs to citizens. If photo ID is required to vote, it is unconstitutional to charge for a state to charge for an ID, since that amounts to a poll tax. Indiana has also spent over $2 million more to educate voters about the program.
On the same note, any change to Maine’s registration laws, such as LD 203, would require substantial voter education—and that all costs money. Maine doesn’t have $14 million or more to spend on extra mailings right now. Protecting our voting laws as they are is not just about protecting a system that works. It is also about protecting the state’s bottom line at a time when we are struggling to pay for the commitments we already have.
If passed, both bills will undoubtedly lead to eligible voters being turned away at the polls. In our democracy, no eligible voter should be barred from casting a ballot. The extension of voting rights to include all Americans regardless of race or sex is one of the most triumphant successes in American history.
These bills would circle the voting booth with red tape for voters and weaken what makes Maine and the United States strong and a vibrant democracy.
It’s worth pointing out that these changes to our voting laws would have a disproportionate effect on young voters and senior citizens. Many seniors no longer drive and no longer have valid driver’s licenses.
College students may meet every eligibility standard for voting, but simply have an out-of-state driver’s license and be turned away from the polls. Many young adult voters move frequently, and they rely on same-day registration. It is suspicious to me that young voters, who are well known to support progressive candidates, would be turned away by these laws—both of which are sponsored almost entirely by Republican legislators.
Regardless of party affiliation, we should be encouraging young people to vote, not setting out an obstacle course for them.
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. It is a fundamental right of every American. I am surprised that any elected official would find it right or necessary to take these steps to undermine that right. LD 199 and LD 203 deserve to be voted down in Augusta.
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.