Radio Address - Sen. Patrick on Voting Rights

Posted: March 05, 2011 | Senator Patrick, Weekly Radio Address

Weekly Radio Address – Senator John Patrick – March 5th, 2011

Good morning. This is Senator John Patrick from Rumford. Thank you for tuning in to the Democratic Weekly Radio Address.

Today I want to share with you something I recently learned.

We’re under attack.

Our civil liberties are being threatened. The very rights guarenteed to us in the Constitution are at risk.

As the Democratic Lead on the Legal and Veteran Affairs Committee, I have counted more than thirty bills seeking to restrict our voting rights and obstruct the electoral process. While I wish there was time to discuss all of them, today I’m going to focus on a few that pose the greatest concern because in each case it is an example of a “solution” in search for a “problem”.

LD 199 requires voters to present a photo ID in order to be allowed to vote and another bill, LD 203 eliminates same day voter registration;

Each of these bills chips away at our Constitutional right. Each gradually erodes our rights and freedoms –it’s almost like the ol’ tale of boiling the frog in the happens almost unnoticeably but before you know it, you’re a cooked frog and you never saw it coming. I am telling you here today that the heat is on…the heat is on to take away your rights, your grandparent’s rights, your neighbor’s rights, and many of your fellow Mainers’ rights.

Americans take pride in living in a democracy—and the most fundamental part to a democracy is your right to choose. At first glance providing a photo ID on election day may not seem especially burdensome but let me discuss a couple of scenarios where it is more than just a hassle—it is outright disenfranchising.

It discriminates against those who do not necessarily carry a photo at all times. And, who are those people one may ask? Many are the people already on the margins of society, like the poor and the disabled. Many are the elderly who no longer drive but are certainly capable of casting their ballot. Many are legal residents who may not yet have photo IDs. Many are those live in a rural Maine and may not carry their license with them from the woods to the voting booth.

And, how are we going to handle the thousands of people who vote by absentee ballot? And, what about those who pick up absentee ballots for their elderly family members—are they too going to have to show a photo ID and how they’re related to their mother just so they can help their 94 year old mother vote?

How many people will be turned away on election day because they didn’t bring their photo ID. If they even have a photo ID will they come back? If they don’t have a photo ID will they be able to access their birth certificates or whatever necessary documentation is needed in order to get a photo ID and will this happen in time to vote?

What will happen if you provide an ID that reflects a different address than where you’re registered to vote—not because you’re trying to vote in two places but because you work a job with long hours that makes it challenging to take of adminstrative changes like that.

You already have to go through proof of identity and residency requirements when you register to vote. This is a system that has worked for the last 191 years and it didn’t require a photo ID on election day.

Anytime you ask the elderly, the disabled, or the poor to take an extra step you are presenting a stumbling block. Too many stumbling blocks discourage a person from taking that step to the voting booth. By placing barriers that prevent Mainers from exercising their right to vote, we are in fact diminishing the importance of democracy. Long ago we got rid of idea that only land-owners could vote or only those who passed literacy tests—or only those of a particular gender. The voting booth doesn’t discriminate and last I knew every vote counts.

The 24th Amendment explicitly prohibits placing a condition on voting such as a poll tax. Requiring people to have photo IDs is a tax, plain and simple. It requires money spent in order to have your right to vote.

For a moment I’m going to put aside our constitutional rights and take a look at the cost of implementing this change. Indiana has a similar voter ID law and in order to avoid constitutional challenges, the state provided free photo IDs. In three years, Indiana has spent an additional ten million dollars. I ask my legislative colleagues and you: Does Maine have an additional $10 million dollars to spend? Is there a REAL risk of voter fraud that warrants increased government intervention at such an outrageously expensive cost?

In addition to the administrative cost of retraining poll workers and election officials, it will also require a massive educational campaign for the public. When Missouri proposed a similar law in 2006 it would have cost the state $6 million in the first year and $4 million in the years after that.

For all of the talk by our Govenor proclaiming the virtues of small government, a law like this expands government and puts big brother smack dab in the middle of in our lives.

Some may say the cost and burden is worth it. And I would ask why? There is no evidence of substantial voter fraud in Maine—there have been two cases of people voting twice in over 30 years. So, there’s a greater chance of getting struck by lightening than there is an instance of voter fraud.

So I will say this again: this law will not “solve” anything—it creates problems and cost and discrimination.

The other bill I want to tell you about is LD 203 which would prohibit voter registration on election day. Did you know that on election day in 2008, sixty thousand Maine people registered to vote that day? Sixty thousand people. If this law had been in place, we would have told sixty thousand Mainers they couldn’t vote. Last year, in 2010, thirty thousand people registered to vote on election day. Those numbers are significant. More important than the NUMBER is that those numbers represent people. People who exercised their right to vote—exercised their civic duty to vote and have their voice heard. I do not want to take that away from them.

In the last few election cycles, Maine has consistently ranked among the highest in the nation for voter turnout. Often we are in the top four states…I am proud of that record. We should not be implementing laws to discourage voting—instead we should be striving to be better, more accessible. Let’s become first in the nation for voter turnout.

I don’t believe these bills are solving anything. Instead it is spreading suspicion. Who are we? Do we have to worry about whether or not our neighbor is who she said she is. Our elections need to continue to be free and accessible whether you’re an 18 year old casting your ballot for the first time or a 92 year old. Our state is about family, friends, and neighbors—we help each other out, we trust each other. The fear and mistrust put forth by these bills is dangerous.

It is true that we have other problems to deal with in this state—problems that are real. Let’s not get distracted by paranoia or an alternative agenda. Let’s get to work solving the problems we know are real. And, in the mean time, as Democrats we will fight tooth and nail to protect our rights under the constitution—especially the right to be heard.

I’m Senator John Patrick and I thank you for listening.