State tells students: Register your car in Maine or don't vote here

Secretary of State Charles Summers has sent a letter to about 200 of the Maine university students cleared in a recent voter fraud investigation, advising them to either get a Maine driver's license and register their vehicles in Maine or relinquish their right to vote here.

The one-page letter cites Maine election law, which requires that voters be Maine residents, and state motor vehicle laws, which require that new residents who drive get a Maine driver's licence and register their vehicles here. In the letter, Summers requests that students "take appropriate action to comply with our motor vehicle laws within the next 30 days." If students decide they aren't residents after all, he asks them to fill out the enclosed form to cancel their Maine voter registration.

Summers said he sent the letters because he's responsible for both election and motor vehicle laws as secretary of state, and he felt he had to follow-up on the approximately 200 people who said they lived here but who were not listed in the state's motor vehicle database.

"I'm made aware that there are people who may not be in compliance like everybody else in the state of Maine — that's why I sent it out," he said.

But others say the letter was an attempt to intimidate the students and manipulate them into giving up their right to vote here.

"My car registration ran out at the end of September. Now I renewed, but I'm a registered voter (and) I didn't get a letter from Charlie Summers asking me if I was going to re-register or if I wanted to unenroll to vote," said David Farmer, spokesman for Protect Maine Votes, which is fighting to reinstate same day voter registration in Maine. "He singled out these students and there's only one reason to do that and that's to scare them."

"Imagine you're an 18-year-old kid, a 19-year-old kid, and you get a letter from the secretary of state threatening you with a Class E crime. It's easier to just say, 'Yeah, you know, I don't know if I want to get involved in this mess.'"

The letter does not explicitly say that failure to get a driver's license or register a car can be considered a Class E crime, but it does cite the specific statutes, sections, and subsections in Maine law that do. Although Class E crimes are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, the letter also does not say what the consequences might be for any of the 200 students who stay registered to vote and do not get a driver's license or register a vehicle here.

Casey O'Malley's parents found the letter threatening. Although O'Malley, a 21-year-old University of Maine at Farmington student originally from Rhode Island, doesn't have a car here to register or drive, her parents insisted she fill out the form that came with the letter and cancel her voter registration in Maine.

"They instantly were worried about legal ramifications if I didn't follow through on what the letter said, if I didn't completely remove my voter registration from Farmington," O'Malley said.  

O'Malley registered to vote in Maine because she lives here for school and is active in a number of community, nonprofit and political organizations. She said she loves Maine and is planning to go to graduate school here. Although her parents insisted she give up her right to vote, she held off.

Instead she brought the letter to UMF's student life director, who connected her with Celeste Branham, the school's vice president for student and community services. Branham has given a copy of the letter to UMF's lawyer and is trying to figure out who at the Secretary of State's Office students can talk to about their specific circumstances.

Branham pointed to another UMF student who got the letter and drives a borrowed car owned, insured and registered by his parents, who live out of state. 

"It's very upsetting," Branham said. "Our students are saying 'We're not intending to violate the law, that's not our purpose, that's not what we want to do. But we haven't registered our vehicles for legitimate reasons.'"

Branham called the letter "unfair."

"Why now? Why these students when I'm fairly certain there are many, many people in this state who have not registered their vehicles here and still claim residency and vote?" she asked. "They're not trying to do harm. They're trying to be citizens. Active citizens. And we should not be in the business of discouraging active citizenship."

The issue of student voters started over the summer just as a "people's veto" referendum campaign to restore Maine's Election Day registration system and repeal a law requiring two days' wait began to heat up. State Republican Chairman Charles Webster alleged that 206 people were registered to vote in Maine but were also enrolled in Maine's public university system as out-of-state students.

Summers investigated. In September he determined the election system was "incredibly vulnerable" to fraud, but said he found no cases of blatant wrongdoing by the students.

It is legal for out-of-state college students to vote in their college towns as long as they have established residency there. Because the university system's residency requirements for in-state tuition are vastly different from the state's residency requirements for voting, a student could pay out-of-state tuition but be allowed to vote here.

Webster could not be reached for comment Monday.

Although Summers' letter mentions the investigation, it does not say the students were exonerated. Instead, it says, "I am writing to inform you that this investigation is now closed and to convey some important information pertaining to your voter registration and residency status, based on the results of the investigation."

Summers said the letter, sent around the same time he announced the results of his investigation, was not meant to be intimidating and was not an attempt to scare anyone away from voting.

"That's the silliest thing I ever heard," he said.

He declined to say what penalties the students might face if they don't either get a Maine driver's license and register their vehicles in Maine or relinquish their right to vote here.

"The 30 days would have to lapse first before we get to that point," he said. "Then we would see. That's all. I don't want to speculate, because you're asking me to speculate on what may or may not happen. And I know how that can get you in trouble. Speculating. I'm not going to do that."

Text of the letter sent from Secretary of State Charles Summers to about 200 Maine university students:

On July 25, 2011, I was presented with a list of 206 University of Maine students with out-of-state home addresses and asked to investigate allegations of election law violations.

I am writing to inform you that this investigation is now closed and to convey some important information pertaining to your voter registration and residency status, based on the results of the investigation.

Our research shows you have registered to vote as a resident of Maine. Maine’s election law (Title 21A of the Maine Revised Statutes, section 111, subsection 1) defines “residence of a person” as “that place where the person has established a fixed and principal home to which the person, whenever temporarily absent, intends to return.”

As Secretary of State, I also oversee the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and am responsible for enforcing the laws of Maine’s Motor Vehicle Statute – Title 29A. As you may or may not be aware, Maine law requires residents of Maine, who are licensed to operate a motor vehicle, to obtain a Maine driver’s license within 30 days of becoming a resident. (Title 29A of the Maine Revised Statutes, section 1251, subsection 1A). If you are the owner of a vehicle, you are also required to register that vehicle in Maine within 30 days of becoming a resident. (Title 29A, section 351, subsection 1A)

If you are currently using an out-of-state driver’s license or motor vehicle registration, I ask that you take appropriate action to comply with our motor vehicle laws within the next 30 days (i.e., by October 20, 2011). If, instead, you are no longer claiming to be a Maine resident, I ask that you complete the enclosed form to cancel your voter registration in Maine so that our central voter registration system can be updated.

If you have any questions or concerns about this matter, please do not hesitate to contact the Division of Elections at (207) 624-7650 or the Bureau of Motor Vehicles at (207) 624-9000.

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 's picture

the law

Many years ago when I moved back to Maine that I needed to get a Maine driver's license and register my card. I was tempted not to do so because there was no registration fee in Maryland where I had previously lived. However, I complied with the law. I now live in Augusta and am aware of a number of people who live in my neighborhood who have not complied with the law. They still drive vehicles with out of state plates. Perhaps Mr. Summers should figure out how to get these people to follow the law.

Nick Gagnon's picture

Oh no! Did you see that 19

Oh no! Did you see that 19 Colby students were charged with under age drinking? Another bullying act by the state for enforcing laws. A republican conspiracy. lol

Nick Gagnon's picture

Who's checking to see if

Who's checking to see if these people are voting in two states?

Nick Gagnon's picture

I don't see how some are

I don't see how some are saying he is "bullying" these poor students. It's enforcing laws. If I, as a college student, gets pulled over by the police for speeding and get a ticket, is that officer bullying me becaus I am a student? If it is the law, it is what it is. Coul it be that the investigation just simply brought a different problem to light? You all get too wrapped up in the whole political battle that yo blind yourselves of common sense. As for "I live near Bates and many of them don't drive", I too live near Bates and I see many, MANY, vehicles registered out of state. You may not see them drive around campus because it's not all that big of a campus to have to drive around. If they are claiming residency then they should be heald to Maine laws, not "bullied" when they are held accountable.

Randall Pond's picture

State tells students: Register your car in Maine or don't vote h

Way to Go Mr. Summers!

Let's Drive More Business and Students of Maine.

You're really Stupid to do this.

And you're Hurting Maine by doing it!

RONALD RIML's picture

An Out of State Student may get a Maine State ID

Proving Maine Residency

Any resident seeking to acquire or renew a Maine driver license or Maine non-driver identification card will need to provide documentary evidence of Maine residency. This evidence must contain an actual physical address.

Please bring with you one form of evidence that you live in Maine. Some specific examples are listed below. Note - this is not an all inclusive list:

Recent Maine Driver’s License with a physical address
Maine Vehicle Registration or other credential
Utility Bill - electric bill, water/sewer bill, cell phone bill, etc.
Maine Resident Hunting and or Fishing License
Contract in their name - mortgage agreement, lease, insurance policy, insurance ID card, SR22
Tax bill
Document issued by a government entity
Tax return
Paycheck stub
Conditional order of restoration
Exemptions from providing documentary evidence of Maine residency
A person that proves they are on active duty in the US Armed Forces
The spouse or child of a person that has proven they are on active duty in the US Armed Forces
An out of state student enrolled in a university, college or school within Maine.

An applicant must provide proof that they qualify for the exemption. Some examples are:

Certified school record/transcript
College ID card with no visible signs of irregularity
Form DS2019 issued to a J-1 scholar (issued and signed by the school)
Military dependent ID card
Military ID
Military service location orders

RONALD RIML's picture

Charlie's getting ready

To waste a lot of state money (read Tax-payers') on a federal law-suit.

Way to go, Charlie!!!!

 's picture

Act like adults

I am tired of reading that college students are being "intimidated." College students, in my observation, are not all that mousy; and there is nothing to be afraid of. They are simply being asked to act like adults to the extent of making up their minds which state they want to claim residency in and behaving consistently with that decision.

If you don't have a car, nobody is going to penalize you for not registering a car. If you don't drive, nobody is going to penalize you for not having a Maine driver's license.

But if you do have a car, and you think you live in Maine, register it in Maine. If you do drive, and you think you live in Maine, but your license is in some other state, replace it with a Maine license. You won't even have to pass a road test.

It's a bit of a nuisance, but no worse than everybody else has to put up with when they move from one state to another.

 's picture

If we're vulnerable

If the system is "vulnerable to fraud" as he claims, why is he wasting his time going after people he just cleared of committing fraud?

This is classic blame the victim politics. Who suffers because of voter fraud? Us, the legitimate voters. Who gains by invoking the bogeyman of fraud when it hasn't happened, in order to justify laws and actions to make it harder to vote? Them, the politicians who make a living out of looking at who votes where and how and trying to rig it to come out to so they get to stay in office.

Stopping same day registration doesn't prevent fraud.

Forcing people to get IDs doesn't prevent fraud.

Hassling innocent college kids who just want to exercise their rights as citizens doesn't prevent fraud.

All those things do is make voting a hassle for the young, the poor, and the elderly, all of whom have more power in their legitimate vote than they do at any other time of the year, and sway elections simply by getting out there and participating. Making voting more of a hassle just stops them from going out, it doesn't make them vote honestly when they hadn't been before.

If you want to stop fraud, you do it by looking at your counting and verification methods, and making them iron clad and safe. It can be done. It isn't expensive. It doesn't piss people off. It makes everyone's vote more secure and valid.

But here's the kicker: cutting off fraud doesn't get them what they want. It doesn't stop the people who vote the way they don't like from voting at all. They've given up on trying to change people's minds, they just want to make things so annoying for the people that disagree with them to vote, they don't vote at all and they "win"

 's picture

Partisinship aside the Law

the Law is pretty clear,

If you are claiming resident status, to vote, then I would think you would change your license to match. Honestly I think we are looking at the wrong place for voter fraud. Look for those old blue hairs, who have beeen voting 2 or 3 times forever.

Or the absentee ballots picked up by the party and hand delivered to the faithful. That is were we should start looking.

The new law will be a step in the right direction. Untill we all get the Id chip inplants.


Most comments

though opposed to Mr. Summers' bullying tactics ignore the very simple fact that prohibiting a student from voting where he/she attends school has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States.

On reading the article, I wondered if the two Charlies might open a used car lot near all campuses that draw out of state students thereby providing a place for them to purchase a vehicle to register. They could call it Cheap Charlies - oh wait - Charlie's of Augusta might be annoyed by that. My second thought is that this is just another Republican ploy to intimidate probable Democratic voters. In Florida, they use 6'6" troopers with mirrored sunglasses, arms folded across their chests in front of polling places frequented by those with experiences of "doing anything while black."

This whole stupidity finds impetus in the horror expressed by local poobahs in a college town. Some of the comments coming from those who run Farminton are hilarious and - like the two Charlies - they ignore the law because they feel threatened by it.

Dan Beggs's picture

the law is the law

obviously they cant have it both ways. charlie is doing a great job dont listen to the whiney liberals

RONALD RIML's picture

Read the article again, Dan

There is nothing to indicate that they are having it both ways.

The only thing that Charlie has discovered is that they are from "Out of State" - not that they are licensed drivers or have registered vehicles.

Catch up on your "Reading Comprehension" there, Sport.

And Charlie needs to do some more investigating.

Jennifer Chretien's picture

When it comes to people who

When it comes to people who only live in Maine for part of the year I think determining residency could be tied to which state address do you file federal taxes from. To me this is more clear than if you go to school here and drive mom and dad's car or maybe don't have a driver's license. I didn't get my license until I was 23 and had graduated (I've always lived in Maine so it didn't matter as far as voting). Absentee ballots allow everyone to vote. Granted you have to think ahead and request one early and submit it on time, however if voting is that important to you you'll get id done. Not to make this any more complicated than it has already become but students are not the only people to live in state part of the year. People winter in the south, some summer in maine, also I've heard poeple will own homes in more than 1 state and claim residency based on taxes. So maybe there is a better way to determine one's residency than driver's license for part time residents.

Gerald Weinand's picture

Maine residents are only

Maine residents are only required to obtain a drivers license if the intend to drive a vehicle here.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Personally, I have always

Personally, I have always felt that everyone should vote in the State where they claim permanent residency, period. In so doing, NO ONE would be denied their right to vote, because absentee ballots are always available, and people would be voting on/for people and issues that actually will have an effect on them going forward, and not simply based on passing whims. Why should temporary residents such as college students be able to weigh in on local and state issues that they certainly will not have to live with after their school time is done? On the flip side, unless these students are voting both in their home state and in Maine, they are missing the boat on their own local issues. When somthing so basic as voting gets this complicated, it's time to apply common sense and fix the problem. Most 5 year olds could see that.

 's picture


When did anything "get this complicated"? There's been no fraud. There's been no evidence that election results were any different than they would have been. If we're applying common sense to the problem, how does that justify making things harder for ANYONE, when nothing bad has actually happened? You've fallen into the trap. You're accepting the premise that something is or can go wrong with elections because of these kids, and now you're looking for (weak) reasons to justify hassling them. Don't you think if they did for some reason decide to en masse commit actual fraud (and not technical 'I didn't register my car here' fraud) that it wouldn't be painfully easy for an election officer to see it happen?

As for local issues? What exactly is the cut off line? How long does someone have to live here before they're good? One of the fundamental points of going to college out of state is to experience life there. One of the fundamental goals of any college is to make life nice enough so that when those people graduate, they have a reason to stay, live and work there. Every year we hear about the "brain drain" when our best High School graduates go off to school elsewhere and never come back. Letting out of state students stay here, live here, and participate fully in their god-given rights as Americans is one of the best ways I can think of to counter that.

GARY SAVARD's picture

It wasn't complicated at all

It wasn't complicated at all as long as it was being ignored. And as for local issues, if you live here, I'd say you're a local, and if you don't, then I'd say you're not a local. Complicated, isn't it?

 's picture

What's ignored? Made up

What's ignored? Made up problems that don't exist? Fraud that doesn't happen or already gets caught when it does?

Students tend to live here most of the year, some year round. Not sure what your definition of "living here" is, but if that doesn't qualify, I don't want to know.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Tough call

I think jumbling this whole drivers license, vehicle registration, residency and voting right thing in one box and making any sense of it was a tough call for Summers but the laws,as written, seem to be clear.
I personally think that if a student lives here nine months out of the year he or she should have the right to participate in state elections without the whole drivers license, vehicle registration thing, after all, as soon as they graduate they'll be booking it out of Maine to find decent jobs. I do think that if they register here to vote they should forfeit their right to vote in their home state. Perhaps it's time for these laws to be amended to address this particular situation.

Dave Martucci's picture

Discriminatory action by Summers

My neighbor, who hasn't been in college (if ever) for at least 40 years, votes here but drives a car registered in New Hampshire. Why didn't he get a letter? Is it because he is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and these students are not?

RONALD RIML's picture

Dave -

You can call the Office of the Maine Secretary of State at 626-8400

Drop a dime on him!!!!

Sandra Coulombe's picture

My first thought was what if

My first thought was what if the students don't have a car to register. I live close to Bates and there are lots of students who don't have a car around here.

RONALD RIML's picture

The State

The State issues 'Identification Cards' for non-drivers

 's picture

I don't think he's gone

I don't think he's gone beyond his job. He is just doing it really badly. He's right when he says ultimately he is responsible for vehicle registration and voting in Maine. That doesn't mean he had to go looking for a nitpick in the law that contradicts common practice just to persecute these kids who he had just found out never did a thing wrong.


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