It is a bad time for Republicans in Maine politics, but a new poll shows they are winning over voters on one major issue.
Nearly two-thirds of Maine voters backed requiring photo identification to vote, according to a University of New Hampshire poll published last month. It cuts against Democratic advantages after Gov. Janet Mills easily defeated former Gov. Paul LePage and her party won a third-straight sweep of the Legislature and our congressional districts.
A winning coalition: In the same poll, there was also supermajority support for two major priorities: paid family and medical leave and the governor’s proposal to allow abortions after 24 weeks if deemed medically necessary.
The coalition behind voter ID is driven by nearly universal support from Republican voters but 40 percent support overall from Democrats as well. Unenrolled voters are almost midway between those political poles at 65 percent support.
Voter ID is perhaps the top Republican priority across the country in this subject area, with 35 states having some form of this requirement. In Maine, which has some of the most liberal voting laws in the country, it is perennially proposed by conservatives.
Wall of opposition: In a rare move, Mills testified before a legislative committee last month against a voter ID proposal from Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta. She was backed up by other top Democrats, including Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Attorney General Aaron Frey, as well as a host of other progressive interests from abortion rights and LGBTQ groups to environmental organizations.
Each of them said such a law would have disproportionate effects on certain groups of Mainers, including seniors, working people and minorities, while Pouliot tried to head off those arguments by proposing the state pay to give IDs to voters who lack them now and pitching the idea as a way to restore waning trust in elections.
Here’s the science: The policy case around voter ID is muddy. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology roundup of scientific literature finds that disparate effects on certain populations have been confirmed in studies but that it is unclear if these laws depress turnout. Despite the popularity of voter ID, MIT found there is also little evidence that it increases voter confidence, which is one of Pouliot’s major stated goals.
The takeaway: This issue is a good example of how Democratic thought leaders do not always hew perfectly to rank-and-file voters. It also previews how voter ID would be a good bet to pass if Republicans ever regained control of Augusta.