August 10, 2017 by Jean
One afternoon in June, I went to my local Town Hall to vote in a special election. I should note that I am a frequent voter – one of those good citizen types who always show up, even for elections like this one that included only a yes or no vote on the local school budget and an obscure state bond item. But on this occasion, something happened that I hadn’t experienced before: When I gave my name to the poll worker, she hesitated a moment and then asked to see a government-issued photo ID. I was startled and asked if Maine had passed a law when I wasn’t looking requiring ID to vote. No, the worker explained, it wasn’t a general requirement; but there was a notation in the book next to my name that I shouldn’t be allowed to vote without showing ID. What!?!
Faced with my indignation, the volunteer poll worker decided she was in way above her pay grade and passed me off to one of the paid town voting administration workers for an explanation. That worker explained, as gently as she could, that I was being required to show ID because someone had challenged my right to vote. (At that point, I entertained the paranoid thought that maybe I should be less vocal about my disagreements with our conservative Governor.) Sometimes, she explained, this was a case of mistaken identity, because of a question about the voting rights of someone else with the same or a very similar name. (Then we both looked at my name and agreed that this was very unlikely in my case.) Another possibility was that my name had been flagged in some comparison of different voter lists.
Ah, this made more sense. Until I retired three years ago, my legal residence was Pennsylvania, where I held a job, maintained a home, and lived for more than half of each year. Shortly after I moved out of my rented home in Pennsylvania to live full time in Maine, I bought a new car and registered it in Maine and also switched my driver’s license from Pennsylvania to Maine. At the driver’s license bureau, it turned out that I could also take care of registering to vote in Maine. The voter registration form had a question about whether I had recently been registered to vote anywhere else, and I declared that I had been registered to vote in Adams County, Pennsylvania. I assumed that information would be passed along to Pennsylvania where my name would be removed from the voting rolls. I should have realized that didn’t happen as quickly and efficiently as I assumed when, almost a year later, I received a summons to report for jury duty in Adams County. I filled out the jury duty form with the information that I no longer resided in Adams County and now lived 600 miles away, sent it back, and forgot about it.
Conservatives who wish to make it more difficult to vote in the United States often use the numbers of people registered to vote in more than one place as statistical evidence of voter fraud. But, although I may have been listed on the voting rolls in two different places, I never voted in more than one place – Pennsylvania until June 2014 and Maine after that date. If indeed my name is on the voting lists in both states, that seems to me to be evidence not of voter fraud, but of administrative inefficiencies in maintaining the voting lists.
Fortunately for me, when my right to vote was challenged, I had my license with me and could produce it. (And it probably also helped that, since I am active in town government, the town worker who was called over to deal with my situation knows me.) But imagine that I was infirm, was no longer driving, or had simply gotten a ride to the polls with a neighbor and had not brought my license. I’m not sure I would have bothered to go all the way home to get my ID and come back to vote (a 10-mile round trip). I may well have just shrugged and decided this dinky little election wasn’t worth the bother. The United States already has lower rates of voting than most democracies in the world. Perhaps we should be worried more about increasing citizen engagement and participation and less about rooting out imagined cases of voter fraud.
Update – Aug. 17 2017
This week, when the Maine Public Radio program “Maine Calling” aired a segment on voter fraud with Maine’s Secretary of State as one of the guests, I decided to pursue this by sending an email to the program outlining my experience. This email was read on the air. In response, I received a personal phone call from Julie L. Flynn, the Deputy Secretary of State in charge of elections. Here is her explanation (from a follow-up email to me) of what happened:
It was a pleasure to speak to you today about your voter record and the Town of Poland’s request that you show ID at the voting place. As I discovered when I looked up your voter record, the “Proof of Identity” and “Proof of Residency” fields in your voter record in CVR (the state’s Central Voter Registration database) were not completed. It may be that the information was not recorded on your application when you registered at the BMV in 2014, or it may have been that the town did not enter the information into CVR even though it was listed on your application. When this information is missing from a voter record, the printed Incoming Voter List will display a “Y” in the “Show ID” field. It is likely that the “Y” has been on each voter list since you registered in 2014, but the Municipal Clerk did not know to look for that until recently. Hence, your being asked to provide the information at the recent election. As we discussed, I have entered your Maine Driver License information into your voter registration record as both proof of Identity and Residency, so your record will not display as needing to show ID in the future. Thank you for your email to the Maine Calling program, and for the opportunity to let us take care of the issue for you. And thank you for voting!
Not a conspiracy or punishment for disagreeing with the Governor, but a simple clerical error. (I believe I presented my tax bill as proof of residency when I changed my driver’s license to Maine and registered to vote.) The reason that the clerical error finally caught up with me this year is that the Secretary of State’s office as been doing training with local election clerks. I’m happy to have a logical (and benign) explanation for what happened.