The Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs on Wednesday took testimony on LD 199, a bill that would require a photo ID to vote in Maine.

Under this proposal, there are only two kinds of photo IDs that would be allowed: a valid driver’s license or a state identification card issued by the secretary of state. So, anyone who does not have one of these specific forms of ID could not vote.

An unlicensed elderly Mainer who cannot, on a fixed income, afford to pay the $5 identification card fee would be barred from voting.

That’s just wrong.

The bill is designed to “fix” a supposed problem of voter fraud in Maine, a problem that simply doesn’t exist, according to the League of Women Voters, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, AARP and — the governor’s chief counsel, Dan Billings.

Last summer, debating with others on the online As Maine Goes forum, Billings acknowledged that it makes sense to close loopholes to voter fraud, but he argued that there is no evidence of widespread fraud.

To be precise, what he wrote was: “Maine Republicans love to allege voter fraud, but nobody does anything to try to prove it.”

This, coming from a well-respected Maine Republican.

Billings is entirely correct that our system allows for voter fraud and we should consider closing the ID loophole, so requiring identification makes sense. However, setting the very narrow requirement that the photo ID must be issued by the secretary of state strips too many very real people of their constitutionally protected right to vote.

If voter fraud is really something the Legislature believes is a problem that needs immediate attention, lawmakers might consider requiring basic identification of citizenship and residency instead, which come in many and varied forms besides photo IDs.

The elderly Mainer who doesn’t drive and can’t afford a photo ID certainly has a birth certificate and a Social Security card. Either one, coupled with a library card or utility card to prove residency, could suffice to cast a ballot.

Earlier this month, the committee heard another bill that contains the kernel of a terrific idea, but it is not yet quite right.

That bill (LD 34), scheduled for a work session next Friday, would require anyone seeking state office to show proof of citizenship in the form of a certified birth certificate and a driver’s license (or similar government-issued ID).

Why require the second form of ID? Shouldn’t a birth certificate be plenty to prove citizenship?

We hope the committee, in considering these two bills, will consider them as matched bookends in the election process. Maine should require people who want to run for office to prove citizenship and we should require people who vote these candidates into office to prove identity, but the requirement to prove that status cannot lock people out just because they don’t have a state-issued picture ID.

While the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is considering voter regs, there is another bill members ought to reject with vigor.

LD 203, presented to the committee yesterday, is curiously named an act “to assist municipal clerks by providing adequate time to register voters.”

The bill would stop Maine’s same-day registration allowance and would require that voters register “no later than the Tuesday preceding the election.”

Municipal clerks didn’t ask for this bill and don’t want it. They have adequate time now to register people in plenty of time to vote.

By requiring voters to register at least one week in advance of an election, we would knowingly be blocking people (admittedly unorganized and out-of-touch people) from voting because they didn’t remember or just didn’t have time to register a week in advance.

Maine has such a great voter participation rate, why would we want to do anything to lessen that? It doesn’t make sense, especially if the clerks aren’t even asking for our help.

Require proof of citizenship and identity from candidates and voters? Yes.

Require citizens to be registered a week before they vote? Absolutely not.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.


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