Unlike their counterparts in Washington, members of the Maine Legislature will usually choose to solve a problem instead of create one.

That good tendency was on display this week when the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee voted to table a bill that called for voters to show a photo ID when they go to the polls. It was the best non-move of the young legislative session and deserving of praise. There is talk on the committee of turning the bill into a study of Maine’s electoral system and seeing if it is subject to fraud. That would be a good move as well.

Ever since the Republicans took over the House, Senate and governor’s office, we have been hearing proposals for tightening up voting practices. One of those proposals, a misguided attempt to get rid of election day registration, squeaked through the Legislature on a party-line vote but later was overwhelmingly overturned by voters in a people’s veto election.

Republicans’ fixation on restricting access to the polls is part of a national agenda that appears to be driven by a desire to suppress voting among groups who tend to vote for Democrats, including college students, minorities and low-income elderly. Republicans say they are not trying to discourage legitimate voters, but want to protect the system from fraud. That would be a reasonable position if there were any meaningful evidence that Maine has serious problem with voter fraud.

Without such evidence, it seems all too likely that Republicans’ efforts to combat “fraud” would prevent eligible residents from exercising their right to vote far more than they would prevent those who are ineligible from voting illegally.

Investigations by Secretary of State Charlie Summers, a Republican, have failed to turn up proof that Maine has a voter fraud problem than needs fixing. Before charging ahead with a solution, Maine lawmakers ought to know what the problem is — if there is a problem at all.

Supporters of voter ID laws make the point that identification is required to get on an airplane or cash a check, and voting is much more important than those activities. But precisely because it’s so important, legislators should refrain from changing laws that work unless they can prove that doing so would make things better instead of worse.

Leave meaningless ideological battles to Congress. The Maine Legislature should focus its efforts on coming together to solve the real problems we face.


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