Maine political parties prep to challenge and defend new voters

LEWISTON — Maine Democratic Party officials say they are concerned their Republican rivals are gearing up to challenge new voters in a dozen Twin Cities' polling stations on Election Day.

Image from Androscoggin County Republican Party memo

A memo from the Androscoggin County Republican Party seeking volunteers to watch polls in 12 Lewiston-Auburn voting locations. The memo describes the roles for those volunteers, including the position of "challenger."

Screenshot from GOP memo

A Maine GOP work-flow chart shows the roles of polling-place volunteers the party intends to deploy around the state. Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorenson said the effort is statewide and is nothing new. He said Democrats employ the same tactic, but a Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman said their efforts involve volunteer lawyers who are focused on allowing all legal voters access to the polls.

But Republicans said their efforts are no different from Democrats' efforts to get out the vote for their side.

Democrats point to a memo sent to Androscoggin County Republican Party members looking to recruit polling-place volunteers.

The GOP memo identifies three primary positions for polling-place volunteers, including captain, striker and challenger. It also proceeds to define those roles and asks people to attend a training on the process Saturday, Nov. 3, in Augusta.

The captain, according to the memo, is responsible for "ground coordination, scheduling, volunteer management, training, report results after polls close and communication with coordinators."

The striker's role includes "standing in proximity to voter check-in lines. Listening to the election worker and voter."

"Strikers will electronically strike people that have cast ballots from our voter list," the memo states.

According to the memo, a challenger is "responsible for witnessing new voter registrations and questioning eligibility" pursuant to state law.

Zachary Heiden, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said he's never heard of either party identifying its poll-watching volunteers as "challengers."

Heiden has worked on voter-access issues in the past, including a people's veto that repealed a law that would have eliminated same-day voter registration in Maine.

Heiden said he hopes the GOP effort to staff 12 Lewiston-Auburn polling places with volunteers to challenge those trying to register and vote on Election Day isn't an attempt at intimidating people.

"If you are an eligible voter in Maine, even if somebody challenges your vote, you still get to register and you still get to cast a ballot and that ballot counts with all the other votes," Heiden said. "In Maine, every vote counts and every vote gets counted; all the challenges are resolved at some time after the election."

State law is precise about who can challenge a voter and why, Heiden said. It prohibits blanket challenges of all people registering to vote on Election Day.

"Under Maine law, it would be very difficult to follow the law and mount such an effort," he said. "Under the law, you can only challenge a voter based on an actual reason."

Challengers must have "personal knowledge" that the voter is ineligible. They must also swear an oath to their challenge. And swearing a false oath is potentially a crime, Heiden said.

He said the ACLU of Maine would have lawyers available on Election Day to help defend the rights of voters and urged anyone experiencing an issue with ballot access to call the civil rights group. Almost every voter should be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted and then challenged after Election Day, Heiden said.

He said the lawyers trained to help in this effort are impartial to a person's political affiliation. "Their responsibility is to watch out for any problems and they are explicitly being told they are there at the polls to hopefully make sure people are able to vote," Heiden said.

He said ACLU of Maine lawyers would be keeping a close watch of the polls in Lewiston and Auburn on Election Day.

David Sorenson, spokesman for the Maine GOP, said the party's get-out-the-vote effort would be statewide and it won't be any different from in years past. He said Maine Democrats do the same thing.

"Democrats have poll watchers too, so don't let them get away with trying to say that they don't or that theirs are any different," Sorenson said. "When Democrats have poll watchers, they say they're there to stop voter suppression. When Republicans have them, they say we're trying to intimidate. It's a perennial source of spin for Democrats."

But Lizzy Reinholt, communications director for the Maine Democratic Party, denied that, saying the GOP memo makes clear that the effort is aimed more at voter intimidation and suppression and is not about increasing Republican turnout.

"There's no way for them to try and get around it," Reinholt said Tuesday. "Their volunteer job is to try and challenge voters. It's quite literally spelled out in the memo as 'challenger.'"

Democratic Party get-out-the-vote efforts involve helping people gain access to the polls, Reinholt said. Democrats too have volunteer lawyers to ensure people have legal access and are not being intimidated at the polls, she said.

"Our lawyers are there to make sure nobody is wrongfully turned away," Reinholt said. "We want to preserve the integrity of our ballot and they want to make it harder for folks to vote. It's an example of polar opposite ideals."

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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RONALD RIML's picture

More Voter Suppression from the Republican Party

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