LEWISTON — The outgoing chairman of the Maine Republican Party said Friday he was not concerned that the U.S. Justice Department may investigate comments he made about potential voter fraud in the November election.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine said Friday it had made a formal request of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to investigate Webster for trying to intimidate voters.
"They may want to try to intimidate me in some way, but if I make the decision to mail the postcards, threats from them won't intimidate me," Webster said Friday.
On Nov. 13, Webster said he intended to send postcards to newly registered voters to see how many were returned so he could tell whether those who registered to vote on Election Day lived where they said they did and were legal voters.
“In some parts of rural Maine, there were dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on Election Day" Webster said in an interview with WCSH-TV in November. "Everybody has a right to vote, but nobody in the towns knows anyone who's black. How did that happen? I don't know. We're going to find out."
Webster, of Farmington, later apologized for the racial overtones of his statements.
But he said Friday he wasn't worried by the ACLU's request and that he "may" still send out the postcards.
"If I do anything at all, it will be on my own personal dime, and it won't be anything I discuss until after," Webster said. "In other words, it wouldn't be a function of the Republican Party."
Webster said if he sends the postcards, it would be to thank people for taking the time to register and to vote.
"It wouldn't single out any one person or anybody like that," Webster said. "The point would be, see whether they were registered voters or not, to see if they actually live there."
The ACLU of Maine has said Webster's proposal is in violation of federal voting rights laws that prohibit attempts to intimidate voters.
So-called "voter caging" schemes are prohibited by federal law, said Zachary Heiden, legal director of the ACLU of Maine.
“Nobody deserves to be harassed or intimidated simply because they attempt to exercise the fundamental, constitutional right to vote,” Heiden said in a prepared statement. “We have laws to prevent exactly this behavior, and we want to see those laws enforced.”
The ACLU of Maine made its request in conjunction with the Brennan Center for Justice.
“Across the country, we have seen individuals and groups use all sorts of tactics to make it harder for people to vote,” said Lee Rowland, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice. “Racially motivated voter harassment is not only illegal, it is also inconsistent with America’s founding values. We must keep elections free, fair and accessible for all.”
In 2011, Webster pushed the issue of same-day registration and claimed that hundreds of nonresident college students were voting illegally, and that in some places people were being bused in to vote.
That eventually led to an investigation by Republican Secretary of State Charles Summers, who found no wrongdoing. Summers, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in November, was quick to denounce Webster's comments about black voters in rural Maine.
Summers' campaign manager, Lance Dutson, also called for Webster to apologize and to immediately resign from his post as the Maine GOP chairman, which Webster did not do.
The Maine GOP is expected to elect a new party chairman Saturday.