AUBURN — A pair of Somali immigrants' voting rights were challenged at the Ward 1 polling place at Washburn Elementary School on Tuesday, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine said.
A poll-watcher for the Republican Party challenged the women's citizenship, but did not go through with a formal challenge, according to Alysia Melnick, a lawyer with the ACLU of Maine.
Melnick said poll-watcher Gervis Legere, who lives in the precinct, questioned the women because they were registering to vote with the assistance of an interpreter. Maine law allows poll-watchers to challenge voters.
When Legere was told he would have to sign an affidavit swearing he had personal knowledge that the women were ineligible to vote, "he balked," Melnick said.
Legere told the Sun Journal that he "had a feeling" the women were not citizens but did not want to proceed with the challenge because he had no proof.
"I learned you can't go on feelings," Legere said.
Melnick said Auburn polling officials reacted properly and allowed the women to vote after checking their identification and having them sign an affidavit saying they were residents of the precinct.
The challenger, Melnick said, just kept saying he didn't think it was right that they should be allowed to vote without providing proof of citizenship.
"He said if they had been here long enough to become citizens, they should be able to speak English," Melnick said. "He had some philosophical differences over their need to produce proof of citizenship and the law."
The ACLU of Maine posted staff and volunteer lawyers at several polling places in the Lewiston-Auburn area after an Androscoggin County Republican Party memo surfaced last week seeking poll-watchers, challengers and strikers for specific voting places.
Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said the memo raised the organization's concern that Twin Cities' polling places were being targeted and voting rights could be infringed upon.
"It raised our concern because it was just so unprecedented in Maine," Bellows said.
Bellows said Tuesday that the women being allowed to vote was a good thing and a good sign that Auburn election officials were handling things properly.
"We want people to know we are here to defend everybody's right to vote," she said. "We don't care which party you belong to; we want to make sure every eligible voter who wants to vote today can vote."
Bellows said the Auburn incident was the first that her organization had heard of statewide Tuesday, but there were complaints that clerks in South Portland and Durham had demanded identification from voters.
Bellows said nothing in Maine's voting law has changed and that Maine does not require voter identification and also allows same-day registration at polling places.
"There's definitely some confusion out there whether Maine's laws have changed or not, and the fact is they have not," Bellows said.
The challenges in Auburn appeared to be part of a nationwide trend at the polls this year.
Challenges, voter confusion and potential problems with provisional ballots in many key states were among the top Election Day concerns for voting-rights groups and the presidential campaigns themselves.
Voting-rights advocates pointed with particular concern to the tea party-linked True the Vote organization, which had pledged to dispatch thousands of monitors to polling places to guard against potential voter fraud.
"We know they have targeted purposefully African-American and Latino polling places," said Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Right now in several states, American voters' ability to vote is in jeopardy."
True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht, however, rejected suggestions that the Houston-based group would be overly aggressive or would issue false challenges.
"Contrary to various interest groups' statements, True the Vote has never been investigated or charged with intimidating voters," she said. "A poll-watcher's sole purpose is to monitor the process of our elections. They are trained to never speak with voters, only authorities within the poll."
Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte n a Facebook post criticized the practice of challenging without proof and the GOP for installing poll challengers.
"Auburn is better than this and all of our citizens deserve respect. Period," LaBonte wrote. "The Republican Party better learn some class and respect in its handling of voting laws and regulations. I'm disgusted."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.