By Irene Lang
NOTE: The work session on LD121 will be held Friday, March 3, 2017, beginning at 9:00 a.m. in State House, Room 437.
Nearly 30 people showed up to testify at the February 15 hearing on LD121, An Act To Require Photographic Identification to Vote. If passed, the law would require voters to show a photo ID at the polls unless a municipal clerk could vouch for the person’s identity, and would require the Secretary of State’s office to provide a free, non-driver ID card to anyone who wants one.
While voter ID laws have been introduced and enacted in many states over the last ten years, all have faced strong opposition. These new laws have often been justified by false claims of voter fraud, but no evidence exists of widespread fraud by voter impersonation.
In Maine, the issue of voter ID has come up repeatedly since 2010 and has been struck down each time. The League has been at the forefront of efforts to block such laws, supporting full voter participation by eligible American citizens and opposing efforts to create new barriers that block citizens’ constitutional right to vote.
Rep. Brad Farrin asserts that the law would protect “the integrity of the voting box,” and proponents say that voter ID is necessary to prevent voter fraud and impersonation. These are red herring arguments: there is no study or court case that supports claims of widespread voter fraud in Maine or the U.S.
The League and other opponents of voter ID categorize the bill as unnecessary, costly to implement, and likely to disenfranchise minorities, elderly people, and disabled voters because they are the groups most likely to have trouble securing an ID. In our testimony against LD 121, we focused on four issues:
- It could disenfranchise voters: Between 5% and 16% of eligible voters do not have the required ID, with higher percentages among elderly people, ethnic minorities, and low-income voters.
- It will be expensive: Implementation of voter photo ID laws in other states has cost millions of dollars, and the cost could be as high as $4 million in Maine. Costs to the taxpayers would include providing the free ID cards, opening ID-issuing offices, providing required documents such as birth certificates, creating public education initiatives, training poll workers, defending against legal challenges, absorbing additional ballot processing costs, etc.
- The cost/benefit equation doesn’t add up: We will spend a lot of taxpayer money to implement this law, creating barriers to voting for tens of thousands of eligible citizens, to prevent a very few, if any, ineligible voters from breaking existing law.
- It’s unnecessary: Voter ID laws counter one exceedingly rare kind of voter fraud—impersonating someone else at the polls—of which very few cases are in evidence across the country, let alone in Maine.
New research on the consequence of these laws has confirmed that voter suppression is a likely result of voter ID. A 2014 study by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded that voter participation fell between 2% and 3% in states implementing photo ID between the presidential election years 2008 and 2012. In a study conducted at the University of California San Diego, the researchers found that “strict photo identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, Blacks, and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections. Voter ID laws skew democracy in favor of whites and those on the political right.” Suppression of specific voters, if not the explicit intent of these laws, appears indeed to be the end result.
Beyond the high cost to taxpayers and lack of evidence of voter fraud, this research provides concrete evidence of the real danger of voter ID laws. Rather than protecting “the integrity of the voting box,” voter ID laws hurt our democracy and clearly have no place in Maine.