Voter petition drive shifts to signature validation

The coalition working to restore Election Day voter registration said Tuesday that it's confident it has enough signatures to get the issue on the November ballot.

David Farmer, a spokesman for Protect Maine Votes, said the group's signature-gathering effort was moving to the next phase, signature verification with town clerks. If all goes according to plan, Farmer predicted the petitions would be presented to Secretary of State Charlie Summers for final verification before the Aug. 9 deadline.

Protect Maine Votes is composed of several advocacy groups, including the Maine Peoples Alliance, the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters. The group is working to reverse a portion of the Legislature's recently passed law that repealed a 38-year-old law that allows residents to register on Election Day.

The group must gather 57,000 signatures to get the people's veto question on the November ballot. While the coalition has been tight-lipped about its signature-gathering efforts, Farmer said the response among voters had been decidedly positive since launching July 7.

"We have had a tremendous outpouring of support from volunteers and organizations who are looking to help protect voting rights," Farmer said. "This is an issue that cuts across parties, age and geography. Many, many people that we’ve talked to see this as a fundamental issue to protect their voting rights."

Farmer was hopeful that Summers would shelve his opposition to same-day voter registration while his office validates the petitions.

The secretary of state has come under fire for holding a press conference last week during which he announced that he was folding an investigation into potential identification fraud into another probe requested by Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster.

Webster, who last week made vague allegations that more than 200 college students "may have" voted illegally during the 2010 election, is an opponent of same-day voter registration.

Neither Webster nor Summers has established a link between their investigations and same-day voter registration. That has prompted supporters of the veto effort to allege that the current GOP party chairman and his former vice chairman were attempting to sway public opinion by aligning the issues with innuendo.

Farmer believes Summers participated in political gamesmanship. However, Farmer was confident that the secretary of state would be impartial when reviewing the petitions.

"The secretary of state took an oath and he has a competent and professional staff that I worked with for many years," said Farmer, who was deputy chief of staff for former Gov. John Baldacci. "While he’s a political officer, and I think he tried to play a little politics last week, I believe that he will do his job and treat the signatures fairly."

Summers was one of the main advocates of repealing Maine's 38-year-old same-day voter registration law. He argued that the practice, along with late absentee voting, overwhelmed town clerks and threatened the integrity of elections.

Summers has said his move to repeal same-day registration had nothing to do with voter fraud. However, some speculate that the former vice chairman of the Maine GOP has been drawn into the fray by Webster, who has alleged that Democrats have used same-day voter registration to flood the polls in tight races. Webster has also said out-of-state college students and nonresidents may have committed voter fraud.

Meanwhile, supporters of the veto effort counter that Webster is making baseless accusations in an effort to disenfranchise young voters who may be more inclined to vote for Democrats and to register to vote on Election Day.

Critics have also blasted Summers for politicizing his office with his statements about an ID fraud investigation and alleged cover-up in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Summers said his office had been contacted July 1 by a Bureau of Motor Vehicles employee who said she believed noncitizens had obtained voting and identity documents. Summers said the employee tried to present her suspicions to senior staff but that she was told to shred the substantiating documents.

But according to former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, those accusations came in 2004 and were resolved with a series of policy changes spurred by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The changes led to the implementation of stricter standards and new safeguards to ensure that only legal residents obtain a state-issued ID.

The efforts culminated in Maine's Real ID law.

Additionally, Dunlap said the Bureau of Motor Vehicles issues had nothing to do election security, only making sure that terrorists didn't obtain state-issued identification.

Dunlap also said Tuesday that he immediately knew the employee Summers was referring to. According to Dunlap, the employee told him last week that she had been trying to tell Summers about the changes that have occurred in the law, not renewing allegations from 2004.

"My understanding is that (Summers) was in the office and they were going over some of the history," Dunlap said. "I saw the press release; I gave her a call and she said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. I just gave Charlie the background.’ I've heard that she's called him on (the press conference)."

Neither Dunlap nor Summers would identify the employee.

Summers has also declined to respond to Dunlap's version of the story because the probe has now shifted to the Attorney General's Office. He told the Bangor Daily News on Monday that he hadn't contacted Dunlap before going public with his ID fraud allegations last week.

The Democratic Party has since questioned Summers' motives for engaging in the issue.

Ben Grant, the party chairman, issued a statement Tuesday calling both investigations "political theater."

"We have a GOP chairman on a witch hunt for nonexistent voter fraud and bragging about suppressing the vote of college students at (the University of Maine at Farmington)," Grant wrote. "Now we have a secretary of state who is playing right along with these partisan games. He needs to remember that he's not vice chair of the Republican Party anymore. He's a constitutional officer and his actions are ruining the integrity of his office."

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Cris Johnson's picture

Partisan Rhetoric? Nonsense.

There is no other rational explanation for reserving buses and then parking them elsewhere on election day than to preclude their use for transporting students to the polls.

Licia Kuenning's picture

Partisan rhetoric

Ben Grant is apparently trying to discredit the Republicans when he describes Charlie Webster as "bragging about suppressing the vote of college students," but if anybody read the accounts of what Webster said they would know that Webster didn't suppress anyone's vote. For crying out loud--the UMF campus is only a block or two from the polls; students don't need buses in order to vote.

I have not made up my mind which way I will vote on this issue--it disturbs me that so much partisan political rhetoric is going into a question which should have nothing to do with party.


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