Last November, Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster took a well-earned bow as he was praised for orchestrating an impressive Republican sweep of the Blaine House and the State House.
He was, his supporters declared, the “architect” of the Republican Party victory.
Since then, some have questioned whether the architect has become unhinged in his zeal to prove college voter fraud that just does not exist.
In July, after a personal investigation, Webster publicly accused 206 out-of-state students who attended Maine’s public universities of voter fraud.
These students all registered to vote in Maine, using their college housing addresses to establish residency, as the U.S. Supreme Court allows, despite the fact that they grew up in towns “from away.”
Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers took the list and folded Webster’s complaints into an existing — and unrelated — investigation of identify theft at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
On Wednesday, Summers announced that, after a two-month investigation, his office found no college voter fraud.
Among Webster’s 206 potential fraudsters, 77 were registered in Maine and in their home states, according to Summers, and five voted in Maine and in their home state in the same years. No one on the list voted in two states in the same election.
So, what we have here are 206 civic-minded young Americans who cared enough to vote.
We don’t have fraud.
Webster was wrong.
He’s not likely to give up the fight, though.
Webster’s belief that college students — Democrats in particular — are gaming the system and “stealing elections” is firm.
In August, he further defined his view — a view not reflected in law or shared by the U.S. Supreme Court — on who can vote in Maine, saying that in order to vote, a person needs to establish residency by registering their car and paying taxes in the community where they live.
He was referring to college students when making that statement, but there are plenty of Mainers who don’t own cars and don’t pay taxes because they rent their homes and their income falls below the threshold for filing income taxes. Does that mean these poor folks can’t vote?
If we are to take Webster literally, and he truly wishes we would, it does.
He’s serious. And he’s relentless.
In early September, Webster publicly questioned why 19 people staying at a South Portland hotel were allowed to register and vote on Election Day in 2004.
He never called the hotel to ask who these people were, just put the accusation of a supposed 7-year-old crime out there for public consumption.
The answer to the question, if he’d bothered to ask, was that the 19 people were American citizens who were “permanent guests” of the hotel after being displaced from their Caribbean medical school by Hurricane Ivan.
These students, Democrats and Republicans among them, were continuing their education at St. Joseph’s College and staying at the hotel because the Westbrook dorms were full.
Each one of these students was an American citizen, eligible to vote in Maine.
There was no fraud.
All of Webster’s unfounded accusations and criminal insinuations have been aimed at two beliefs: He doesn’t think out-of-state tuition college students should be allowed to vote in Maine and he thinks clerks need two days to verify whether individuals are legal residents of Maine before they vote.
In the first case, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled college students can vote in their “school” states while attending school full time.
In the second case, Webster has his two days. The Legislature eliminated same-day registration to allow time for clerks to check residency, time they didn't even ask for at the bill's hearing earlier this year. But will they even do that?
In the failed examples of potential voter fraud that Webster “exposed,” many of the students had been registered in two places for years and clerks in many states had yet to uncover the dual registrations, so what does Webster really expect to be done in two days?
Maine’s same-day voter registration has worked for decades, and while Summers warned that the system is “fragile and vulnerable,” Webster’s overplayed Chicken Little performance proved there really is no college voter fraud.
And, given that evidence, voters should re-instate same-day voting in Maine come November. Webster failed to prove his case.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.