Summers adds new allegations to GOP fraud claims, critics say timing suspect

AUGUSTA — In a move that critics say is designed to derail an ongoing effort to restore Election-Day voter registration, Secretary of State Charles Summers on Thursday leveled new allegations of possible voter and identity fraud.

Summers announced he was folding that ongoing investigation into the probe requested by Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster, who earlier this week made vague allegations that more than 200 college students "may have" voted illegally during the 2010 election.

The new allegations include serious charges that high-ranking officials in the Secretary of State's Office had ordered the destruction of documents that a complainant within the Bureau of Motor Vehicles believed showed that noncitizens had obtained voting and identity documents. If true, such actions could be considered criminal offenses.

But at the morning news conference, Summers revealed few details, claiming the case was under investigation by the Attorney General's Office. He said the allegations and the announcement had nothing to do with an ongoing people's veto campaign to restore same-day voter registration.

Nonetheless, the coalition leading the veto effort was skeptical of the timing and nature of the event. The rare news conference was held inside the Secretary of State's Office and it came just three days after Webster's allegations.

Webster has also refused to say whether his self-described investigation has any link to same-day voter registration.

Meanwhile, others questioned whether Summers' sensational but nonspecific allegations were designed to distract voters and legitimize Webster's oft-repeated, but thus far unsubstantiated claim, that same-day voter registration made the election system vulnerable to fraud.

David Farmer, a spokesman for Protect Maine Votes, the coalition leading the effort to restore same-day voter registration, said neither Summers nor Webster had presented any evidence showing that the allegations were in any way linked to same-day voter registration, a law that Maine had on the books for 38 years until the Republican-controlled Legislature repealed it last session.

"The timing of an announcement of investigation like this is closely related to the announcement by the (GOP) party chairman on Monday," Farmer said. "The timing is about confusing the issue. But as the secretary of state said, he doesn't see this issue being related to the people's veto campaign or the effort to repeal the ban on same-day voter registration and I take him at his word on that. But I do think the timing has the potential to confuse folks."

He added, "We're now hearing a lot about elections all at once and I think it's meant to confuse the issue."

Some Democrats also questioned Summers' decision to advance the investigation along with Webster's allegations, adding that the former vice chairman of the Maine GOP ran the risk of politicizing the Secretary of State's Office.

"The timing is certainly suspect," said Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston. "In the past, the chief election officer of the state has taken off his partisan hat for the good of the state."

Summers submitted the legislation that repealed same-day voter registration. He said at the time that the bill had nothing to do with voter fraud. Around the same time, Summers also said that Maine's voting system was efficient and working properly.

Asked about the latter statement Friday, Summers said, "I was obviously wrong."

According to Summers, his office was contacted by the BMV employee July 1. He declined to say how far along the investigation had progressed or to describe how many individuals were involved.

He said the BMV employee attempted to present her suspicions with documentation that showed identification fraud. Summers said the employee was instructed to shred the substantiating documents.

Given that Summers claims the allegations involved "senior-level management," he was asked whether any employees had been suspended or fired. He declined to answer.

Summers also wouldn't specify which administration was involved in the alleged cover-up, only that it wasn't his.

Matt Dunlap, the former Secretary of State for five years under Gov. John Baldacci, said he had no knowledge of such activity occurring on his watch.

Dunlap, who has supported same-day voter registration but who isn't involved in the veto effort, also questioned whether the investigation was politically motivated.

"These are serious criminal charges," Dunlap said. "There is no way I would jeopardize the integrity of the election process or the Secretary of State's office. ... If anything, I tried to be proactive in making sure noncitizens didn't get a driver's license or vote. To my knowledge, it didn't happen on my watch."

Lizzy Reinholt, the communications director for the Maine Democratic Party, wondered whether the investigation was designed to implicate Dunlap, a registered Democrat and rumored 2012 challenger to U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Regardless of potential political motives, most agreed that the latest allegations were serious. It's also unclear how such an act could be perpetrated in a system that includes several checks within BMV, the Secretary of State's Office and individual town clerks. 

In 2008, Dunlap oversaw the implementation of new residency standards required to obtain a Maine driver's license or ID card, which can then be used to register to vote or purchase a weapon.

The acceptable documents include items such as a tax return, a valid college ID or a Social Security card.

In addition, within the BMV is the Office of Investigation, which is staffed by about a dozen sworn law enforcement officers trained in ID theft and fraud. Typically, Dunlap said, if BMV employees suspect malfeasance, they are required to alert the Office of Investigation, which then explores the matter. There are other protocols that take place before a complaint reaches senior staff.

It was not known whether the BMV employee described in Summers' investigation followed those steps.

Nonetheless, Summers said he was "shocked" at the information his office had uncovered. He declined to elaborate, except to say that federal authorities were involved in the investigation.

Summers would not elaborate on Webster's allegations against more than 200 out-of-state college students except to say that "there was enough there" to push the investigation to the attorney general.

It is legal for out-of-state college students to vote in their college towns as long as they have established residency there. However, some Republican lawmakers have tried to change the law.

Meanwhile, Farmer, with the veto coalition, said his group was well on its way to getting the 57,000 signatures required to get Election Day voter registration on the November ballot. The coalition must submit the signatures for verification by Aug. 8. It began gathering signatures in early July.

Supporters of same-day voter registration note that more than 62,000 Mainers registered on Election Day during the last two elections. Some also attribute the effort to repeal same-day voter registration to a national Republican-led effort to implement more restrictive voting laws.

At least 33 state legislatures, including Maine's, have introduced such bills. Critics say the model legislation is designed to give Republicans an electoral advantage by making it difficult for young people and poor people to vote.

smistler@sunjournal.com

Summers 7.28.11 fraud investigation

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Comments

Jim Cyr's picture

Overblown is right

If you have an out of state drivers license and/or your vehicle is is also out of state, you should not be a legal resident to vote. Is that not simple enough?

David  Cote's picture

Way overblown

Actually, Republicans gained power in the last election with same day registration intact. Whether we have it or not makes no difference because what sways all elections is the moderate vote. The far left is too loony and the far right is too screwey for those in the middle to pay attention to. But both sides clamor for their views to be echoed by the people who are elected. This issue is sort of a battlefield to either secure the liberal vote or an attempt to deny access to vote. Either way, both sides have portrayed themselves to be the "victim" although their motives are selfish. It's hard for me to believe either side actually cares about the plight of the voter. It's all about the votes themselves. Always has been amd always will be.

"At least 33 state

"At least 33 state legislatures, including Maine's, have introduced such bills. Critics say the model legislation is designed to give Republicans an electoral advantage by making it difficult for young people and poor people to vote." So of course it would be to their advantage..this whole country it catering to the rich and they know if we the people of America are allowed to vote, their asses are grass..they will stop ant nothing to keep us away form the polls, because the only way they will win re-elections is to fix it to their liking..I hope they all rot in hell.

David  Cote's picture

Illinois politics

According to an MSNBC link (www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28141995/ns/u), there were only two Republican politicians convicted of differing corruption crimes; Bill Thompson who I believed served as Mayor of Chicago back in the twentys and early thirties, and former Gov. George Ryan. However, the article lists a slew of Democrats, like Otto Kerner Jr., Daniel Rostenkowski, Dan Walker and various individuals within the Daley adm. And of course, Mr. Ron (doesn't my hair look fabulous)Blog-hard. According to the article I read it is the Democrats that have trashed Illinois politics for decades by a wide margin.

RONALD RIML's picture

Charlie Summers spent a too much of his life in Illinois

Where there were was 'Real Voter Fraud'

- a former Republican Secretary of State/Governor is now residing in Federal Prison.

And a Secretaty of State could die with $8 Million $$$ stuffed in shoe boxes in his Springfield hotel room.....

This ain't Illinois, Charlie - though Boss Hogg LePage thinks he's Mayor Daley of Chicago

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Summers is a party hack

Nothing but vague assertions in an attempt to grab the headlines long enough to move public opinion.

It doesn't take a genius to know that in today's instant news atmosphere, even the most outrageous statements do damage because people consider followups to be "old news." Webster and Summers are simply following the same playbook as Chris Christie, Rick Scott and Scott Walker are following and they're doing what the Koch Brothers and others tell them to do.

Were there massive voter fraud, were high officials in Governor Baldacci's Secy of State's office, were Barack Obama having white babies for breakfast - there might be cause for alarm. But it's just more politics before people BS from the right.

Doreen Sheive's picture

Why have we not heard about these employees before now?

I presume that the Secretary of State employees who are accused of these heinous acts are former employees. I do not understand why we are just now hearing about these alledged accusations. These are very serious accusation, and deserve to be explained to the general public. So Secretary of State Summers and the AG should immediately release the details or the Secretary of State should have not released the information.

Doreen Sheive's picture

I realize that it is an investigation

However, I think maybe Secretary of State Summers should have not released this information yet. He could have simply stated that there is another investigation under way and that the possible voter fraud issues raised by Webster would be jointly investigated. And, he could have said that since it is in the preliminary stages, it was not appropriate for him to explain anything further. However, by disclosing details about an investigation he is implying that wrong was done by upper level employees in a previous administration.

RONALD RIML's picture

Where are the Indictments???

Until Charlie Summers has an indictment - he has only political smoke and mirrors......

Doreen Sheive's picture

If there has been wrong doing

Then, it needs to be investigated. However, that has nothing to do with voting rights. Any and all illegal acts should be investigated and prosecuted regardless of what is going on with our voting rights. I, personally, do not believe that any changes to voting rights should have happened. I hope we overturn the change.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Peculiar timing

If Mr. Webster has know all along that illigal activity was taking place and chose to sit on it until it was politically advantageous for him that doesn't speak very well for his loyalty to the State of Maine or the law. If he does not know positively about any illegal activity but is just blowing smoke hoping something will stick or that he will befuddle the simple minded that doesn't speak too well for his character. In any case the timing of his complaints leaves a lot to be desired. He should have complained at the time the so called crime took place. It isn't as if there is no way to find out if someone has voted twice.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Very clear the investigation is the fraud

None of these allegations deal with the issue - did election day registrants vote illegally.
Now let's see Charlie Webster is a Republican official. Charlie Sumners is a Republican official. Republicans under Karl Rove used phony investigations to justify firing AGs and to indict a Democratic Governor for purely partisan political gain.
Charlie Webster did not say that 200 students had voted illegally; he said they could have, might have, I don't know.
Karl Rove politics have come to Maine. Hold on to your hats the dirty tricks are about to begin.
Save all the news coverage. Pay back time is a b***h

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Fishing expedition

The issue is a single piece of legislation and whether or not the Maine people get the opportunity to repeal it. Not some phony Republican fishing expedition. Normally, the legislature investigates and issue and then develops legislation to fix any problems found. In this case, the Republicans legislated a non-existent problem to prevent legal Maine voters from exercising their rights. Just as Southern democrats in the century passed poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent blacks from voting. The Supreme Court found that unconstitutional.
So far, Charlie Webster and Sumner have not documented a single case of an Election Day registrant voting illegally. He has not presented a single case of same-day registration changing the results of an election not has he shown a case where the "integrity" of Maine elections has been compromised. Noit that they haven't been. ome investigate elections in rural Maine - Franklin and Oxford Co. in the 1950-1990's. Every ballot box was stuffed by the Republicans.

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