News Law and Policy

‘Ballot Box Bullies’: Maine GOP Governor Demands Voter ID Law

Auditi Guha

Voter ID laws hurt "people of color, poor people, the elderly, and people living in rural areas—in other words, the majority of Mainers. Gov. LePage has already lost on this issue multiple times. It's time for him to move on."

Republican Gov. Paul LePage will push a new bill to require Maine voters to present identification in order to cast ballots, claiming the move would help “prevent fraud in our electoral system” despite a total lack of evidence that fraud is a problem in the state.  

“It’s not unreasonable to ask for voters for an ID as a simple way to safeguard the most sacred right we have in our democracy,” LePage announced last week in a radio address, two days after President Trump dissolved a “sham” commission created to probe unsupported allegations of voter fraud after he lost the 2016 popular vote by almost 3 million votes. “That’s why I will submit a bill this session to require voter ID for Maine elections. We must discourage voter fraud, and we must ensure that noncitizens and nonresidents are not voting in our elections.”

That kind of fraud is less likely than the probability of being struck by lightning, said Max Feldman, counsel at the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice, who has long tracked elections and restrictive voting laws.

“The justification used by proponents of a lot of the voter ID laws is that they are needed to curb in-person voter fraud,” Feldman told Rewire. “But studies have shown that in-person voter fraud is a myth.”

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It is particularly mythical in LePage’s case because Maine has not recorded any credible instances of voter fraud, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine, and legislators have struck down similar efforts, including in 2015 and 2017. In 2012, he pushed unsuccessfully to add photos to EBT cards used by people with low incomes to buy food.

For a state where the Republican governor is constantly pushing for proof of identity, Maine’s government-issued licenses and identity cards are not yet compliant with federal Real ID standards. After years of resistance, the state has until October to comply.

The voter registration process already vets residents on who they are and where they live, according to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat. Maine doesn’t need additional ID laws because voter misconduct is extremely rare, and intentional voter fraud or impersonation more so, Dunlap added.

“In the 22 years that I have worked for the secretary of state I am unaware of any evidence being presented to the state of voter impersonation at the polls,” he said last year in testimony opposing the then-proposed photo voter ID bill, LD 121.

As the Brennan Center’s “The Truth About Voter Fraud” report cited by Feldman notes: Claims of voter fraud “are frequently used to justify policies that do not solve the alleged wrongs, but that could well disenfranchise legitimate voters. Overly restrictive identification requirements for voters at the polls—which address a sort of voter fraud more rare than death by lightning—is only the most prominent example.”

Other studies have also concluded that illegal voting and folks impersonating another voter are extremely rare and “virtually nonexistent.”

Although 34 states require or request some form of photo identification to be presented at the polls, only seven states have strict photo ID laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maine has none. Among northeastern states, only Rhode Island asks for photo IDs at the poll; New Hampshire and Connecticut accept non-photo IDs.

Although LePage claims it’s “not a hardship to require an ID for voting,” civil rights advocates maintain that voter ID laws are designed to suppress votes.

“Voter ID isn’t about protecting the vote, it’s about making it harder for some people to cast a ballot. It hurts people of color, poor people, the elderly, and people living in rural areas—in other words, the majority of Mainers. Gov. LePage has already lost on this issue multiple times. It’s time for him to move on,” Alison Beyea, executive director at the ACLU of Maine, told Rewire.

The governor said he recently produced his ID to pick up prescription medication, arguing that IDs are required in everyday life—to buy alcohol, open a bank account, drive a car, or travel by plane.

These arguments have been debunked as falsehoods, especially for people in small towns and rural areas. Moreover, getting an ID can be onerous and expensive.

Pointing to recent data that found more than 6,000 students registered to vote with out-of-state IDs in a neighboring New Hampshire college town, LePage demanded last week that students who want to vote “should meet the residency requirements, just as anyone else who chooses to live and work and vote in Maine must do.”

A 2011 Brennan Center report that outlined prior trumped up accusations of fraudall unfoundedstated that Maine deserves better than “ballot box bullies.”

Incidents outlined range from 206 Maine university students wrongly accused of fraud and allegations of “dozens of black people” coming to cast votes in Maine to the attempt to eliminate Maine’s popular same-day voter registration system that helped 50,000 Mainers to vote in 2008. Although he signed a 2011 bill eliminating same-day registration, LePage, along with several state legislators, registered to vote the day before Election Day in 1982, the Bangor Daily News reported.

After then-Secretary of State Charles E. Summers, a Republican, claimed that many noncitizens may had voted in Maine, an elections commission formed in 2012 found “little or no history in Maine of voter impersonation or identification fraud” and stressed that “the negative aspects of a voter ID law outweigh its potential benefits.”

Mainers packed public hearings last February to urge the legislature to reject the voter ID bill. Testimony came from citizens and progressive groups such as the Maine Municipal Association, Homeless Voices for Justice, and the League of Women Voters and Disability Rights Maine. They warned, as they had in 2012 when a similar proposal was being debated, that such a law would lead to lack of participation and disproportionately harm Black people, those with a disability, and the elderly, the Bangor Daily News reported.

More than 21 million U.S. citizens, including about 10 percent of Maine’s voting population, do not have government-issued photo identification, and many of them cannot afford the documents needed to secure such an ID, an ACLU fact sheet states.

“Voter ID laws deprive many voters of their right to vote, reduce participation, and stand in direct opposition to our country’s trend of including more Americans in the democratic process,” it reads.

A 2012 report from the Maine Center for Economic Policy estimated that 10 percent of the state’s eligible voters did not have any form of state-issued ID, many because they do not drive. And implementing voter IDs could cost Maine at least $3.8 million over three years.

Conservatives have long used policies like voter ID laws to control who can vote. The Trump administration has made every effort to roll back voting rights. President Trump’s “Commission on Election Integrity” was filled with voter suppression enthusiasts such as commission co-chairman Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

These efforts usually aim to restrict people of color from voting as they are historically more likely to vote for Democrats and progressive candidates.

LePage’s dogged insistence of voter fraud and an “illegitimate” system—despite elections that put him in power—mirrors Trump’s constant, baseless insistence that the 2016 presidential election was “rigged.” Yet his announcement to introduce a new voter ID bill came just days after Trump dissolved his commission despite claiming wrongly for months that anywhere from 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

Dunlap has sharply rebuked LePage’s allegations of widespread voter fraud. He has repeatedly debunked such claims and his office estimated that implementing voter ID could cost the state more than $500,000. He doubts a new bill would go very far in the Maine legislature, according to the Portland Press Herald. Democrats hold a house majority and Republicans have a one-seat edge in the state senate. 

One of four Democrats on Trump’s 11-member election commission, Dunlap successfully sued for information about its formation and to be included in work on the panel.

He has not hesitated to point out that the governor’s announcement came on the heels of Trump tweeting about voter fraud and the need for voter ID laws, according to news reports.

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