AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are considering a bill that would have Maine join the growing number of U.S. states that require voters to show photo identification to cast an election ballot.

This bill is the latest chapter in the years-long debate over election reform, pitting those who believe voter identification prevents fraud and restores public confidence in elections and those who claim it suppresses turnout among vulnerable voters and isn’t needed in Maine.

The author of this year’s bill, Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, said he believes Maine elections are fair. But he cited a 2022 poll from the Monmouth University Polling Institute that showed American confidence in the election system is sinking fast, from 62 percent in 1980 to 36 percent last year.

Only 6 percent of those Monmouth polled in 2022 wouldn’t change a thing about our system, he said.

“Whether we like it or not, perception is reality,” Pouliot testified during a legislative hearing Monday. “If only 36 percent of the electorate believes the system is basically sound, why wouldn’t we take all measures to ensure integrity and restore faith in our system?”

Thirty-seven states have laws on the books that require voters to provide documentation to cast ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, 10 require photo IDs to vote and an additional eight request a photo ID at the time a ballot is cast.


The proposed bill, L.D. 34, would consider a current driver’s license, a state-issued ID card, a U.S. passport, a military ID, or a state permit to carry a concealed handgun to be acceptable forms of voter ID, so long as they have a photo. A private Maine college or university ID would not be acceptable, however.

Supporters believe that most people have some form of acceptable photo ID because it is needed for such everyday activities as buying certain over-the-counter cold remedies, buying cigarettes or alcohol, receiving hospital care, and even watching an R-rated movie.

But the bill would allow a person who doesn’t have a photo ID to request a free one from the Secretary of State’s Office. This would prevent someone who doesn’t drive or is poor from being shut out of the election process, Pouliot said.

“I hope that this committee will see this bill for what it is, which is an effort to restore faith and confidence in the system,” Pouliot said. “Not all of you can be a part of the 6 percent who think the system is perfect the way it is. Why not look at this as a sensible approach to improve?”

Opponents claim the bill will suppress voter turnout generally, mostly because it will lead to long lines at the polls, and make election workers’ jobs harder. They fear it will prevent some older, female, disabled, and transgender voters from casting ballots.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, whose office is in charge of voting, told the committee that forcing people to carry a specific type of photo identification to vote would result in logistical challenges, financial burdens, and potential discrimination. She repeatedly insisted it is not needed.


“This is not a bill about whether or not we need to ensure the identity of Maine voters,” Bellows said. “Maine elections are free, safe and secure … It is a bill that would increase costs, complications and consequences to our elections and turn eligible voters away.”

Bellows estimated the bill would cost Maine more than $1.1 million, including $300,000 to print the state-issued ID cards for the 100,000 registered voters who could not be matched with a valid driver’s license, the staffing needed to do that and the $600,000 ad campaign needed to educate the public.

She noted the issue was studied at length by a state elections commission created in 2012 to study voter participation, voter registration and elections in Maine. The commission voted 4-1 that the negative aspects of a voter ID law outweigh its potential benefits, Bellows said.

Gov. Janet Mills came out against the bill Monday in written testimony submitted to the committee.

“As Mainers we have long held that the freedom to vote is a fundamental right,” Mills wrote. “At a time when democracy seems in peril, Maine should be engaging its people in the civic and electoral process, not looking for ways to disenfranchise them from one of their most fundamental rights.”

The public hearing on the bill drew dozens of speakers, ranging from former poll workers who claimed to have witnessed voter fraud to opponents who claimed the bill was a solution in search of a problem. A string of advocates testified the bill would disenfranchise their members.


Retired doctor and veteran David Andrews of Falmouth said his faith in Maine’s elections was shaken when he witnessed two people voting in a local election who he believed had moved out of town. The poll worker later confirmed they had not lived in town for years.

“As just one person at one table in one town, I witnessed fraud,” said Andrews, noting that those particular cases had been addressed for future elections. “Though somewhat minor, it has undermined my confidence in one element of our Maine electoral process.”


But even the bill’s sponsor, Pouliot, admits there is no evidence of fraud in Maine’s elections. Opponents note that The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, reports just two cases of duplicate voting in Maine, both occurring in 2010, in its election fraud database.

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem and frankly, I’m growing increasingly impatient with efforts that lack evidentiary merit, thus contradicting an educator’s mission to foster critical thinking, analytical reasoning and civic-mindedness,” said Jesse Hargrove of Thorndike.

The Hermon High School social studies teacher continued: “This bill is another example of efforts to sow unwarranted distrust in our election systems, to minimize the voice of citizen voters and restrict access. … This bill would place unneeded roadblocks in the pathway of democratic participation.”


Older Mainers, especially those who live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or congregate settings and have limited incomes or disabilities, may find it hard to get the necessary identification to vote, said Bridget Quinn, associate state advocacy director for AARP Maine.

“Requiring photographic identification may inadvertently create barriers to voting by complicating the voting process for voters who may no longer have a photo ID because they no longer have a license,” said Quinn, whose group represents 200,000 older Mainers.

One of those groups most likely to be turned away at the polls would be trans voters, advocates said.

According to the 2021 Maine Transgender Community Survey, only 30 percent of transgender Mainers have a government-issued photo ID that correctly lists their name and gender identity, said Quinn Gormley, executive director of the Maine Transgender Network.

Gormley told the committee she believes that lawmakers who push this kind of legislation do so because they know the people who will be turned away at the polls were not likely to vote for the elected officials who support these bills. Disenfranchisement is the point, she said.

“This is an attempt to deny minority communities a voice in our democracy while systematically empowering elected officials whose ideas do not produce majorities when our democracy has full participation,” Gormley said. “This bill is craven, harmful, and a bad choice for Maine.”

The Maine Town & City Clerks’ Association is divided over the bill. About half the clerks think it is needed to increase voter confidence and decrease potential for voter fraud, and half worry it could create confusion among voters and long lines at the polls, legislative chair Patti Dubois said.


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