"While some fear voter ID laws disenfranchise voters and suppress turnout, experience shows that these concerns are unfounded."
In this Nov. 8, 2022, file photo, cars stream by the polls on Ocean Avenue in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Nick Murray is the director of policy at Maine Policy Institute, a free-market think tank headquartered in Portland.

Maine is one of just 15 states which do not require registered voters to provide any sort of identification at polling stations in order to vote on Election Day. This is a bit surprising, given that a 2021 poll from  Monmouth University found a supermajority of Americans (80 percent) not only support voter ID laws generally, but believe a photographic ID should be required to vote. This includes 62 percent of Democrats and 87 percent of independents.

Showing an ID to vote is not much different than showing one to purchase alcohol, get on a plane, open a bank account or apply for state welfare benefits. Identification is required for these tasks to ensure an individual is who they say they are, and that they’re allowed by law to engage in the specified activity.

While some fear voter ID laws disenfranchise voters and suppress turnout, experience shows that these concerns are unfounded. In the four years after Georgia implemented its voter ID law in 2008, turnout among Black and Hispanic voters increased and even  outpaced overall population growth among those demographics. Even through 2022, turnout in the state continues to  break records.

A national study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research observed more than 1 million voters from 2008 to 2018 and found no statistically observable change in voting behavior such as registration and turnout rates related to voter ID laws. In reality, voter ID provisions may buttress the integrity of the electoral process and could reduce the possibility of voter fraud.

To be clear, passing voter ID isn’t a nod to the harmful rhetoric around “stolen elections.” It’s a common-sense policy that protects the sanctity of our elections — even if just at face value — and it’s supported by most Americans.

As noted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, when Georgia approved its law, arguments on both sides of the issue were hyperbolic. Opponents equated it to Jim Crow-era poll taxes, while supporters claimed it would stop persistent fraud that had been undermining the integrity of the state’s elections.

Yet turnout increased, and the state’s election officials couldn’t point to a single case of ballot fraud the voter ID law had prevented. But, if the majority of voters support an idea, even if it gives them only the appearance or feeling of safety, why shouldn’t it be implemented if it causes no harm? If voters want that additional safety net — one more layer of protection in the process — then they should get it.

This year, Maine lawmakers have an opportunity to further secure our elections and enact this widely popular idea by passing  LD 34, An Act to Require a Person to Show Photographic Identification for the Purpose of Voting, sponsored by Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta.

This week, lawmakers on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee held a public hearing on the bill, which requires voters to show photographic identification in order to cast a ballot on election day. If LD 34 passes, acceptable forms of identification would include a driver’s license, U.S. passport, military ID or concealed carry permit, but not one from a college or university.

For those who do not have valid photographic identification, the bill also includes a provision — similar to that in  Georgia — directing the secretary of state to provide a free ID card to any resident who needs one in order to vote.

History has shown that enacting voter ID is a win-win for voters and election officials. It gives voters the feelings of protection and confidence they seek in their elections, and it does not reduce voter turnout or make elections more difficult for officials to administer. It’s an easy and painless reform that may help protect a foundational institution of our government — the democratic process.

It’s time to pass voter ID in Maine.