No excuse for GOP voter suppression efforts, say Senate Democrats

Posted: February 15, 2017 | Uncategorized

AUGUSTA — Two Democratic members of the Maine Senate objected Wednesday to GOP-sponsored legislation that would suppress the voting rights of students and other Mainers.

The two bills were subject to public hearings before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, and drew strong opposition Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, and Equality Maine. Julie Flynn, Deputy Secretary of State, gave testimony against both bills on behalf of Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who oversees elections in Maine and is charged with upholding the integrity of the ballot box.

As of the time of this release, the Committee was hearing entering its fifth hour of testimony from the public, the overwhelming majority of which was opposed to both pieces of legislation.

The first bill — LD 121, “An Act to Require Photographic Identification to Vote,” sponsored by Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock — would establish a new requirement that eligible voters present “proof of identity” before they are allowed to cast a ballot on election Day.

“Countless Americans have fought, and many thousands have given their lives, to protect our rights. Voting rights are the cornerstone of our democracy, and are protected by more clauses of the Constitution than any other right,” said Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam. “Voter suppression of any kind in our democracy is wrong, and flies in the face of the values our brave men and women fought to protect. Bills like this have been rejected time and again, for the suppressive effect they have on voter participation. This bill should be rejected, too.”

National, nonpartisan studies of in-person voter impersonation – the type of voter fraud that a voter ID law is meant to address – have found time and again that voter fraud is all but non-existent. Here in Maine, in 2012, Republican Secretary of State Charles Summers commissioned a panel to investigate voter fraud in Maine, and it found no evidence that fraud had occurred in our state.

However, voter suppression does exist, and is a well-documented result of “voter ID” bills such as LD 121.

The second bill — LD 155, “An Act To Protect Voting Integrity by Establishing a Residency Verification Requirement for Purposes of Voting,” sponsored by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette — would impose new restrictions on voting rights for students, preventing them from listing their dormitories as their primary residence in establishing Maine residency.

“Rep. Fredette’s bill is unconstitutional on its face,” said Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston, the Assistant Senate Democratic Leader, after welcoming several Bates College students who came to Augusta to testify against LD 155.

“In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law in Texas that sought to impose special residency requirements on students,” Libby said. “Maine students who live in dormitories are Maine residents, plain and simple. They pay taxes in Maine. They shop at Maine businesses and are subject to Maine laws — the same as retirees or people with second homes who live in Maine only part of the year but list Maine as their primary residence. Given Maine’s demographic challenges, we should be welcoming these young people to our state, with sincere hope that they’ll stay after they graduate. We shouldn’t demean them or treat them like second-hand citizens, and we certainly shouldn’t stand in the way of their guaranteed right to vote.”

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will issue its recommendation on LDs 121 and 155 in the coming weeks, and the bills will be subject to votes later in both the House and Senate.