The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee has been a hot spot this session as it considers a series of highly partisan bills that would require photo identification to vote, among other voter-suppression efforts. 

“The majority of people today have some form of photo ID,” said the photo ID bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brad Farrin (R-Norridgewock). “Just think in your daily life how many times you are asked for your ID? At the bank, the convenience store, the airport, and the list goes on. If we need ID for these day-to-day activities, what can be the harm in protecting the integrity of the voting box?” 

But other than a few Republican lawmakers, who argued that the measures would rout out perceived voter fraud, no members of the public showed up to testify in support of the bill last week. Civil liberties groups, the Maine Municipal Association, advocates for the homeless, and LGBT activists all came out in opposition, arguing that the proposals will do nothing to prevent fraud and will simply make it more difficult for students as well as elderly, low-income and transgender people to vote. 

Testifying against the voter I.D. bill, Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn noted that the provision to provide photo I.D.s to the 202,614 potential voters without a driver’s license or state I.D. would cost about $581,500 in addition to the money needed to educate voters about such a drastic change. She added that in her 22 years working for the Secretary of State she was “unaware of any evidence being presented to the State of voter impersonation at the polls.” She said that the Attorney General’s office has only prosecuted four cases where someone voted twice in the same election in the past 10 years.

“In three instances, the person registered and voted in two different towns,” said Flynn. “In the fourth instance, the voter obtained an absentee ballot both for himself and his son and voted both ballots. So, in the latter instance, voter impersonation was involved, but with absentee ballots rather than voting at the polls, and it was detected and investigated due to the signatures on both absentee envelopes appearing the same. None of these four situations would have been prevented by requiring a voter to show ID at the voting place.”

Speaking on behalf of the newly formed Islesoboro Citizen’s Action Committee, island resident Janis Petzel pointed to a 2014 Washington Post investigation that found only 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud out of more than 1 billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014.

“In Maine, where most ballots are cast in small towns and neighborhoods where people know each other, the risk is so small as to be nonexistent,” wrote Petzel in testimony. “Why spend all that money and effort to fix something that isn’t broken?”