Proposed legislation and policy solutions range from instituting voter identification requirements and protections against outside interference to more control over absentee ballots and drop boxes.
AUGUSTA – Senate Republicans unveiled legislation during a press briefing on Tuesday to help bolster confidence and integrity in Maine’s electoral system. The bills, ranging from voter identification requirements to chain-of-custody measures regarding Maine’s absentee ballot process, aim to reverse a decline in voter trust over the past decade.
According to Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Kennebec, who introduced LD 34, “An Act to Require a Person to Show Photographic Identification for the Purpose of Voting,” the role of government should be to improve voter trust instead of being one of the factors contributing to its decline. He cited a Gallup poll that indicates an overwhelming 80% of Americans favor voter ID requirements.
A recent University of New Hampshire Pine Tree State Poll issued last month showed nearly two-thirds of Mainers also want it.
“Whether voter fraud or impersonation exists isn’t the question here, actually – a few cases over the years prove that it does,” Pouliot said. “Our job as lawmakers is to minimize the risk of it, which is really our job with any of our governmental processes.”
Ripping off a list of at least 11 instances where identification is needed in Maine, from starting a job and buying alcohol to even opening a bank account, Pouliot said having an ID to vote should be no different.
“Thirty-five states require voter ID. Two more, Nebraska and Ohio, are currently implementing it,” he said. “Maine’s Perceptions of Electoral Integrity index scores have consistently ranked in the top 10 in the country. Let’s be number one.”
Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Aroostook, said a major component contributing to the lack of electoral trust stems from a new phenomenon that has been occurring across the country involving billionaires like Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Dubbed “Zuckerbucks” to describe the concept of private donations to fund official government electoral operations, Zuckerberg’s nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life funneled $350 million to 2,500 local election departments in 47 states including millions of dollars to cities in Maine.
“Now, conveniently these funds typically flow to pockets and hubs of folks that share the same ideology as Mr. Zuckerberg, namely urban liberal areas,” he said, adding Zuckerberg’s firm sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to cities like Portland, Lewiston and Bangor to help bolster turnout. “I don’t have an issue with increasing voter turnout, but why does it have to be in the most urban areas that also have a strong trend line of voting for Democrats.”
The top 10 list of municipalities that received funding are:
- City of Auburn – $259,076
- City of Augusta – $145,237
- City of Bangor – $272,104
- City of Bath – $144,315
- Town of Cumberland – $155,000
- City of Lewiston – $272,519
- Town of Orono – $159,025
- City of Portland – $284,584
- City of Saco – $159,540
- City of South Portland – $205,938
- Total spent in Maine – $3,577,320
For Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Androscoggin, who is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, the issue of public confidence in Maine’s election system has less to do with whether fraud exists or not but rather the controls the State has in place to prevent it.
“Regardless of whether you believe election fraud is rampant in Maine or elsewhere, it does exist. It might be large or it might be small, such as the case with two students who were charged in Orono,” Timberlake said. “But we can’t live in a vacuum with our head buried in the sand hoping it will never happen. That is just unreasonable.”
Citing the need for businesses to deploy risk management and internal control measures for everything from employee theft to OSHA safety regulations, he said state government is no different when it comes to planning for potential fraud.
“Whether fraud happens is not what this is about,” he said. “Our responsibility is to put commonsense protections in place to manage the risk of just once.”