Maine voter registration explained

Interest in voting this year may be at an all-time high.


Already the state has surpassed the record for the number of absentee ballots that have been requested, at more than 300,000 and growing. More than 27,000 people have already voted.


And on Monday, the first day that in-person absentee voting was offered statewide, there was a line of voters waiting to have their voices heard when I visited Portland City Hall.


Maine is in the middle of the U.S. presidential campaign, and we have one of the top U.S. Senate races in the country, with Sen. Susan Collins facing off against Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon and two lesser-known independent candidates, Max Linn and Lisa Savage.


With interest up — and the stakes so high — it’s important that voters know the rules about voter registration.


As I was standing in line on Monday, other Portland residents were talking, and one woman who identified herself as a new voter started asking questions about what documents she would need to register.


One kindly man told the woman that she would need a photo ID to register. That wasn’t a problem, she said. She had her driver’s license.


The problem is, that’s wrong. 


In Maine, you do not need a photo ID to register to vote — even for the first time. The law is clear that there are alternatives.


Maine law says that any of the following forms of documentation may be offered by an applicant and considered by a registrar in verifying identity in order to register to vote:


Yes, you can use a government-issued photograph identification card, like a driver’s license. But you can also use a government-issued document without a photograph, including a certified birth certificate or signed social security card. 


Other documents that are acceptable include a utility bill, a bank statement, government check, documents that show that you are eligible for public benefits or even a paycheck.


You can also use the last four digits of your Social Security number — as long as it can be verified through the central voter registration system.


Voter ID laws have been a constant partisan fight in Maine — and around the country. Republicans fight year after year to add hurdles to voting as part of their efforts to suppress voter participation.


Not everyone has a photo ID, and the requirement tends to disenfranchise low-income voters, the elderly, people with disabilities and other populations who Republicans would like to keep from voting.


Photo ID laws are justified with the claim that they reduce fraud. The truth is, there’s very little documented voter fraud in the United States or Maine. Photo ID laws are about making it harder to vote. Period.


I talked to a person from FairVote, a nonprofit that advocates for electoral reforms that make it easier for eligible voters to participate. Earlier this year, they had called a number of town offices in Maine and asked about the types of documents that were necessary to register.


Some places got it right. But a whole bunch more got it wrong and the volunteers who called the town offices were given bad information. In most cases, they were told they needed a photo ID to register. Likely, they mistakenly thought that documents like utility bills could be used to prove Maine residence, but they can also be used to prove a voter’s identity all on their own.


In Maine, you can register to vote up until and on Election Day. If you show up at the polls after work on Tuesday, Nov. 3, and there’s a problem with your registration or you aren’t registered, you still can participate.


The Maine Secretary of State has a helpful, animated video with the rules for registration.


Every eligible voter should be able to vote between now and Nov. 3 — photo ID or not. And it’s up to the towns and the secretary of state, with help from election observers, to make sure that those rights are protected.


David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.

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