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Opinion

Date: 06/06/11

Photo ID for Voters Needed to Secure Ballot

By Rep. Susan Morissette

In these final days of the legislative session, a number of important bills await a final verdict. One that will impact Maine voters is LD 199, which would require a photo ID before being issued a ballot at a polling place. As a cosponsor of the legislation, I believe safeguarding our voting procedures will give Maine residents more confidence that all votes cast are legitimate.

The bill is hardly revolutionary. At least eight states already require a photo ID for voting while 18 other states require some form of identification at the polls. Moreover, photo IDs are necessary to board a flight, cash a check or even rent a movie.

From a legal standpoint, the bill is on solid ground. Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to uphold an Indiana law requiring photo IDs for voters. The court's majority opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens.

The Indiana group trying to have the law ruled unconstitutional argued that requiring a photo ID would pose a hardship for the poor and the elderly. Justice Stevens acknowledged that the law might place a small burden on a limited number of people, but he wrote that states have a valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process. He noted that voter fraud could affect the outcome of a close election.

Voter fraud has not been a big problem in Maine - at least not yet - but it would not take much to alter the outcome of close legislative races where winning margins are sometimes in single figures. Moreover, we must be mindful that election shenanigans seem to be proliferating. During and after the 2008 presidential election, more than a dozen states discovered huge problems in new voter registrations provided by ACORN, the now-infamous community organizing group. More than half of their 1.3 million registrations were found to be fraudulent.

The American people have awakened to the threat to electoral security. A national Rasmussen poll last year found that 82 percent of Americans believe voters should have to show a photo ID. However, in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over Maine's election procedures, all five Democratic members voted against the bill even as all seven Republicans voted Ought to Pass as Amended.

The amendment specifies the types of photo ID that may be used to verify the identity of a voter. It must be an official identification document or card issued by a state, the federal government or a college or university in the state. If a prospective voter does not present a photo ID, the individual will be able to cast a provisional vote. That voter will have three days after the election to present an acceptable photo ID, at which point the provisional ballot will be accepted.

Maine Secretary of State Charles Summers testified strongly in favor of LD 199 during the public hearing. He noted that the system would be phased in over several election cycles. Through the end of 2012, voters who do not have a photo ID with them could sign an affidavit that they don't have one. Also, an election official could sign an affidavit that the voter is known to the official.

As Secretary Summers said, "This bill would provide a reasonable safeguard to the integrity of the election, while providing flexibility for election officials and voters during the initial implementation." He said his department will offer free state photo ID cards to voters who cannot afford the $5 fee if the applicant attests that the card is for the purpose of voting.

This bill deserves to pass and become law.

State Rep. Susan Morissette (R-Winslow) serves on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and the Insurance and Financial Services Committee