Voters challenged in Auburn allowed to vote

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.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Poll-watcher Gervis Legere keeps an eye on activity at the Auburn Ward 1 polling place at Washburn School on Tuesday.

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.

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Phyllis Hyde's picture

Two women and an interpreter

We've established from other commenters that the citizenship test requires some usage of English. These 2 women may have had an interpreter because, even though they were able to speak enough English to pass the citizenship test, they may not be as versed in reading English; hence, the interpreter to translate the ballot (written English) into their native language. There are a lot of people in Maine who were born in Maine but who speak English with a French accent, because French is their first language. It wasn't until they went to school that they learned English, but even now, prefer to speak in French if given the opportunity. I know a woman who is a native Mainer, and is now a senior citizen, who says she still prays in French, even though her English is excellent.

I don't think those of us for whom English is our native language quite understand what it's like to have learned another language first, and then learned English.

 's picture

We are not required to show

We are not required to show proof of citizenship when voting. Whether you agree with that or not, that is the law. If you are that civically engaged then you should start a citizens's initiative towards that end. Good luck with that. I believe the idea was that *registering to vote* requires it's own set of requirements to be met and there is no need to overlap. Forgive me if I make an assumption here, but it seems like your statements put you firmly on the side of LESS government, not MORE. I feel I must be wrong, but it sounds like you are ok if the government "interferes" with *other* people, just not with *you*. I am a citizen, registered to vote, but I do not want to have to carry a copy of my birth certificate with me on the off chance twhen I go to vote, or even sign a petition in front of Hannaford's. Do most of the people do the right thing at polling places? I sure like to believe so. Are there people who bend or circumvent rules as being "not for them but others"? It seems pretty clear those people exist. The poll workers did their job, rest assured if the women were NOT citizens, you would have heard a triumphant outcry. As for needing interpreters? I'm going to do some racial profiling here and guess that by looking at poster's last names, most of you have parents/grandparents/great grandparents who came to Lewiston and did not know a word of English. There is still a high percentage of older French people in Lewiston who never bothered to become citizens. You're not required to, so there is no problem there. They also don't vote. It's a trade off. Yes - you must speak some English to pass the citizenship test. You also can take the test with an interpreter there, but there is a portion in English. You can't speak what is required, you can't pass. Next time you go to the grocery store, restaurant, church (if you happen to) see how many older people are there with their adult children, and who STILL speak French. Or who, when they can't find the correct words in English, will revert to their native French. More power to them - how many languages do YOU know? Technically though - that's an *interpreter*, so I guess they shouldn't be allowed to be citizens by your standards. Somalia is a hell hole. I do not say that to offend any Somalis, but being civically engaged and educated, and a citizen of the world as much as is possible, how anyone can have anything but compassion for these refugees is almost beyond me. For that's what most of them are: political refugees, not just immigrants. Why wouldn't you want to come to the USA and make a better life if at all possible? So you come, you follow the rules, if so inclined and you and your family are determined to set down roots here, you take the classes and study for your citizenship, pass, and are allowed to vote in what is probably the first election of your life. Do you want an interpreter to help you understand the finer points of what you're actually voting on? (I know I almost did by the bottom of page 4 - and I educated myself on the issues beforehand!) Absolutely. To me that shows initiative and a desire to engage in this country. I doubt there are many (if any) people who have had to go through so much to become a citizen and achieve these unprecedented rights - the same rights we get simply for being born here, assuming of course that out immigrant parents had the forethought to go into labor on American soil and/or that they too wanted more for their families and became citizens. I doubt too many naturalized citizens are "not bothering to vote, because...who cares anyway?", or throwing their votes away on write-in candidates like Mickey Mouse. The outcry that would have erupted if they weren't citizens would reverberate in to national media. I for one am sick of having the only time Maine make national news be for some horrible bizarre homicide, or hate crime, or jingoistic remarks by some embarrassingly elected official. "Poll Watchers"? Fine. Like I said, I believe most people are good. But lets not pretend that people speaking French, Spanish, Chinese, or any other language were stopped and asked to provide proof of citizenship. How about a story about people exercising their hard-won right to vote in a country that we are lucky to live in? One that does not murder, starve, or kidnap it's own citizens and put grenade launchers in the hands of 8 year olds ordering them to shoot anyone who moves. God Bless America.

 's picture


[This comment was removed by the administrator]

Dan Beggs's picture

speakng english is required for citizenship

speaking english is part of the citizenship test,why did the women need an interpreter?

Dan Beggs's picture

non citizens voting is wrong

Why is it that I have to show ID and pass a background check to buy a gun and not to vote they are both constitutional rights. this liberal agenda has now destroyed the trust that the american people have in the "system" it is apparent that widespread voter fraud has occurred it is wrong and these people who voted should be criminally charged with a crime if they are not legal citizens .

 's picture


"It is apparent that widespread voter fraud has occurred.." Is it? How so? Is that why Romney lost? Please. Look in the mirror conservatives. The answer lies within.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

It'll never happen. Pigs will

It'll never happen. Pigs will fly before they're charged with anything, but hey, were jumping the gun. We don't really know that they were guilty of anything. The problem, though, is that we don't know if they were innocent, either.

Jeff Johnson's picture

Trust, but verify.

Trust, but verify.

 's picture

This is a good, and bad story

Good for you Mayor LaBonte, thank you for standing up for what is right.
To this person who decided to challenge a woman's right to vote, eb\\because he had a feeling,,,,
Sir you should take a deep look inside yourself and try and discover what gave you this feeling. Just because someone looks or talks different than you??? That, in many people's eyes, makes you a racist. Time for some soul searching sir.

Our society has come way to far for people to try to stand in our citizens way, because of their color, or national origin.

Dan Beggs's picture

its the interpreter

for US citizenship English speaking is part of the test you have to pass, you are the racist for suggesting it. he confronted two non English speaking women RED FLAG probably not legal to vote.

Betty Davies's picture

Reminds me of the days when French-Canadians were targeted

"He said if they had been here long enough to become citizens, they should be able to speak English."

Mais oui!

Steve  Dosh's picture

Voters challenged in Auburn allowed to vote

Scott 21:45 H S T Tuesday ( still )
Voters challenged in Auburn allowed to vote . Good ?
"The Republican Party better learn some class and respect in its handling of voting laws and regulations. I'm disgusted."
^^ Ain't that the †ruth , Mayor ? ^^ Bunch 'o ignorant bullies • 
" 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." Was his name Rev. Taylor , per chance ? Who ever you are , you retain the right to remain stupid
/s , Steve Dosh

 's picture


The election judge was doing his job. Why is it, you leftists all want to cry racist at the slightest opportunity. Why do you see racism in everything? Could it just be because she brought an interpreter with her and could not speak English? It is very easy to accuse someone of the worst when you were not there and could not possibly know what he was thinking. Racist, Racist, oh it has to be racist. How sad for you....

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Was it proven that the women

Was it proven that the women were, indeed, U.S. citizens? When a person sees racism in everything, perhaps they, themselves, are racists.

Abdi Hassan's picture

Jim, he was not an election

Jim, he was not an election judge. He was "A poll-watcher for the Republican Party" It is not his job to question anyone whether they are legal or illegal.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

If they're illegal, it's

If they're illegal, it's everyone's job.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Then, why is he poll

Then, why is he poll watching?

Jason Theriault's picture

Why indeed?

Why indeed?

The only time they are supposed to challenge is when they have knowledge that someone is ineligible to vote. Not because they have a hunch or a gut feeling. When they know and can prove it.

Why did the Androscoggin GOP have poll watchers?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

He did nothing illegal. He

He did nothing illegal. He knew he couldn't prove they weren't eligible to vote and didn't act on his hunch.
I can't answer for the Androscoggin GOP.
No one's coming up with the answer to the most important question, being all wrapped in flipping the racist card.
Are these two women U.S. citizens?

Steve  Dosh's picture

Jim , Q : Why ? A; Because

Jim ,
Q : Why ? A; Because it's the †ruth
There a lot of inconvenient truths about rabid reactionaries such as you we could point out to you but , p ƒ ƒ t t , why confuse you with facts ?
We even used to agree on global climate change and the envirnoment but Republican tea partiers have turned anti - scientific these past four years , too . ref : Sandy and
There are none so deaf as those who can not hear, so blind as those who can not see . ..those who can't understand things like , " 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," i.e., racial profiling • 
Thanks , Scott , for the opportunity to comment .
Now to that other paper in town :) /s Steve

Diana Currier's picture


as it is, it will take DAYS to count this election already. Thought I'd throw that out there, it's all black AND white .

Abdi Hassan's picture


Gervis Legere Said

"had a feeling" that the women were not citizens, but did not want to proceed with the challenge because he had no proof" What prompted him to be suspicious? The color of their skin? Their outfit? How does he know if they are a US citizen or not? Do I have to bring my US passport in order to vote? SHAME ON YOU MR. LEGERE!!

Dan Beggs's picture

they couldnt speak english

probably not citizens, stop being a racist and making more of it than it is. Obviously you have no respect for the law.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

It's that sort of blind

It's that sort of blind liberal aversion to racial profiling that enabled 19 Arabs to board two American passenger airliners and crash them into two tall buildings in New York City 11 years ago, killing almost 3000 innocent Americans. We NEED to racially profile if we are to survive as a country. Israel has no problem with it; they understand.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Tell us, sir, are the two

Tell us, sir, are the two women in question U.S. citizens?

Sandy Mabry's picture

on the subject voting

I'm sorry but if your a us citizen you shouldn't have to have a interpreter to vote on a important day like this nor should you have to press one for english

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Hows this for the use of the English language????

I was standing in the checkout line at Hannafords. There were two ladies in front of me. Now they have probably been living here since before the Bates mill was built. Due to my disability I have balance issues, and I fell over. These two ladies let their displeasure be known that a drunk showed up to shop. They didn't speak a word of English. Now, did they have the right to assume I was drunk? Would I be within my rights to assume they weren't citizens because they spoke no English? The answer to both is, "Not everything is as it seems". A wise man thinks, then keeps his mouth shut.......

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Did they have an interpreter?

Did they have an interpreter?

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I don't know....

I was too busy trying to put all the Pepsi bottles back in the display case, and trying to look inconspicuous.....

Betty Davies's picture

Grammar check

An individual who speaks and writes English well would--

*Put a comma after "I'm sorry"

*Write the contraction for "you are" as "you're", not "your"

*Capitalize "US"

*Put a comma after "this"

*Capitalize "English".

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Missed a couple, Betty. "a

Missed a couple, Betty.
"a interpreter" should've been, "an interpreter" and "a important day" should have been, "an important day".; if one really wants to be picky.

Ron Dexter's picture

Native Americans

Hmmm, don't think the original occupants of this land spoke English!

 's picture

Native Americans

Yes, that is true. And they could not vote....

Andrew Jones's picture

Nice to see he stopped just

Nice to see he stopped just short of perjury to prevent someone else from voting.


Voters challenged in Auburn allowed to vote

I absolutely agree with the male poll watcher from the Republican Party challenged the women's citizenship, questioning whether they were legal to vote.

They should have to prove citizenship before they are allowed to vote.

They don't necessarily have to speak English, however, because not everyone can speak English, but should have to prove Citizenship and that they belong to the district before they vote. Hooray for the questioning poll watcher and as far as I'm concerned they shouldn't have been allowed to vote!

Just my opinion, I welcome yours!

Jake Paris's picture

Gloria, okay, that's your

Gloria, okay, that's your opinion, but it's not the law. The challenger would not have being doing the legal thing had he proceeded with an official challenge demanding to see "proof of citizenship." You say "as far as I'm concerned they shouldn't have been allowed to vote!" Why not? Because she had a hijab? Because she was born in another country? I guess these opinions you express may have been the norm in 1940, but c'mon, you are going to have to "leave that 1940's culture at that door" to paraphrase our illustrious Mayor.

 's picture

Poll watchers/challengers should know the rules

Here in Maine if you have a state-issued ID or Maine Driver's license to show in order to registered to vote, you would have had to provide PROOF that you are a Maine resident and you are a US citizen or are in the country lawfully (legal presence).
If your social security number is not on file with the Secretary of State, you must provide your social security number. If you believe you are ineligible for a social security number, you must present an unexpired immigration document, such as an I-94, to help determine your ineligibility.

The Maine ID / Driver's License is typically the photo ID form used/accepted by Town Clerks when folks registered to vote. If you've recently moved, you will also be asked to show some type of utility bill with your current address on it.

My mother-in-law, a US Citizen, lived here for 65+ years and sounded like she "stepped off the boat yesterday", a very thick Flemish/French accent having been raised in Belgium. Her older sister sounded very British, because her formative years were in England.

We were all immigrants at one point in this country, . . everyone should be treated with respect when they exercise their right to vote.

Take your intimidating tactics elsewhere!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The poll watcher was not

The poll watcher was not engaging in an illegal activity. He had no proof of his suspicions and therefore, did not act on them. He did nothing illegal.

 's picture

GOP challengers

Did Mr. Legere challenge any white voters? The GOP does not want every citizen to vote for obvious reasons.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

How many white voters needed

How many white voters needed interpreters?

Jason Theriault's picture

Ding ding ding

We have a winner.

"I learned you can't go on feelings," Legere said.

Your right, you can't. And the reason is that you only challenged these people because of their race. Because you are, Mr. Gervis Legere, a racist.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

That's bull $***!

That's bull $***!

 's picture

Good Effort!

I'll be speaking French when I go to vote tonight after work, like I'm sure Mr. Legere's relatives once did. A Romney electoral college win is pretty much a mathematical impossibility, so they have to try to pull this thing off somehow. Nice try.

 's picture


I am sorry, but I do believe that voters should have to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Just because the Somali women's interpreter said they were citizens does not make it so. The ACLU is not fooling anyone, they are there to ensure that everyone can vote for Obama: American's, Foreigners, the living, the dead....

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Any reports on how many times

Any reports on how many times Michael Jackson voted this year?

Mike Miles's picture



Folks are not required to show proof of citizenship, so your feelings that they should show it, and Mr Legere's feelings that they should are interesting, but not consistent with the requirements. Think what you want, but please do not interfere with these folks' rights to vote. This business of people taking it on themselves to decide who should vote and who should not is insulting and degrading. When it is applied only to people of one race, it is by definition racist. It is intimidating to new Mainers, and people who practice it should be embarrassed. Unfortunately, they are usually too wrapped up in their own self righteousness to have the sense to be embarrassed.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"Folks are not required to

"Folks are not required to show proof of citizenship"....
That may be true, but folks are required to be citizens in order to vote in a presidential election. I've seen no one step up and state clearly and emphatically that these two women are U.S. citizens, and yet, they were allowed to vote.

Jeff Johnson's picture

Right to vote

Mike, you only gain the "right to vote" by being a U. S. Citizen. The right to vote doesn't happen just because you happen to be in the country. As an election official, Mr. Legere had every right to challenge their ability to vote legally.

Do I believe his motives were pure? No. I'm cynical enough to believe he was certainly profiling. While he didn't explain himself well, he was statistically correct in assuming that they were the most likely candidates to not have the right to vote. Obvious recent immigrants who don't speak the language, and need an interpreter.

One more reason for a national ID card. Everyone should have to prove citizenship to vote.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Mike, You are correct ?

You are correct ? This is not the Republic of France where one is guilty until proven innocent , it is the very United States of America where one is innocent ( i.e., a citizen ) until proven guilty or a liar ( and a fool ) in a court of law . Just ask Ollie North . We , as a Nation , presume people are telling the truth and not fibbing
It all gets back to the Hamiltonian vs. Jeffoersonian ideals that formed this country
Jefferson believed people are basically good , magnanimous , and just and Hamilton ( & the Federalists ) believed we - are - evil and not to be trusted . It does . Take your pick of philosophies . I go with the optomistic approach and not the cynical & bitter one
Our President just asked us to look forward to rational , just and fair immigration reform for everyone .
Down with xenophobia . ..
Hooray for US ! We win ¡ Again ! h t h , /s Steve , speaker of five languages ( including English )


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