Maine ACLU calls on secretary of state to apologize to students

The ACLU of Maine and two national groups are calling on the secretary of state to apologize to nearly 200 Maine university students for telling them they needed to either get a Maine driver's license and register their vehicles in Maine or relinquish their right to vote here.

In a five-page letter sent to Secretary of State Charles Summers on Monday, the Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and Demos, a national policy and advocacy organization, said Summers targeted the students and sent them a letter the groups called "threatening" and "likely to deter them (the students) from exercising their voting rights."

A spokesman for the ACLU of Maine said there is no connection between the right to vote and registering a car or getting a driver's license, and the Secretary of State's Office should not have tied them together.

The three groups asked Summers to immediately write another letter to the students telling them they were cleared of voter fraud in an earlier investigation and are also under no obligation to relinquish their right to vote in Maine. The groups additionally asked Summers to issue a public statement clearly stating that none of the students was found to have violated election law. And they called on him to stop "further targeted efforts to harass, intimidate or coerce these or other legally registered Maine voters."

"We believe that Secretary Summers owes these students an apology," said Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine. "We think that he's violated the federal Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution, and something needs to be done about it."

Caitlin Chamberlain, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's Office, said Summers had received the groups' letter but had no comment Monday.

At issue is a one-page letter sent by Summers in September to about 200 Maine university students. That letter cited 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. He requested that students "take appropriate action to comply with our motor vehicle laws within the next 30 days." If students decided they weren't residents after all, he asked them to fill out an enclosed form to cancel their Maine voter registration.

State Republican Chairman Charles Webster had passed the students' names on to Summers, alleging potential voter fraud based on the fact they were registered to vote in Maine but were also enrolled in Maine's public university system as out-of-state students. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it's legal for out-of-state college students to vote where they're living for school, he feared they were voting in Maine and in another state. At the time of Webster's allegations, Summers asked the Maine Attorney General's Office to investigate the students.

The AG's Office would not confirm whether it found enough cause to investigate, but it did say it made no written determination regarding Summers' request.

In September, Summers went public with his own investigation, saying Maine's election system was "incredibly vulnerable" to fraud but that he found no cases of wrongdoing by the students.

But as he publicly exonerated the students, Summers sent nearly all of them a letter. That letter mentioned the investigation, but it did not say the students were exonerated. Instead, it said, "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." It then asked the students to either get a Maine driver's license and register their cars in Maine or relinquish their right to vote here.

Summers has 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 people who said they lived here but who were not listed in the state's motor vehicle database.

But Heiden said Summers drafted an unenroll form just to send to the students, leading his group to believe Summers' goal was to get the students off the state's voting rolls.

"That form didn't exist before," Heiden said. "He created an unenroll form and sent it to students that were handpicked by the chair of the state Republican party."

Summers has said the letter was not an attempt to scare anyone away from voting. But Heiden said he's heard from students who were worried about voting after getting the letter.

"Many of the students are very concerned and are afraid about whether they're able to vote here in Maine," Heiden said.

If Summers doesn't respond to the groups' requests, Heiden said they have a list of options, including taking legal action, formally asking the U.S. Department of Justice or the Maine Attorney General to get involved, or asking the state Legislature to look at the Secretary of State's actions.

"We have a lot of options and we're still weighing those," he said. "We're certainly not taking any options off the table."

ltice@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Jennifer Chretien's picture

I don't believe that the

I don't believe that the letter was intended to intimidate anyone. I read the letter in a previous article and what I got from it was; you're registered to vote in Maine, by doing so you have declared Maine your state of legal residence. If this is correct Maine law requires that if you have a driver's license or own a car you need to have a maine driver's license and register your car in Maine. If this in incorrect you may unenroll as a Maine voter. Quite simple in my opinion. Personally I think it would be much simpler to connect one's state of legal residence to the state from which you file your federal taxes. As far as the letter goes if people where unsure of what it meant call the office from which it was sent and clarify it's intention. I don't think that's too much to ask.

Licia Kuenning's picture

A few things that shouldn't need to be said

Our commenter who likes to tell us what would be done if only he ran the state, says,

"Well, Licia, when you have a public official who misuses their office to threaten and intimidate the public, it is a crime"

Perhaps so. But it would be up to the courts to decide whether that had happened in any particular case. In the situation we're discussing the Secretary of State merely pointed out what the law is. That's hardly a crime or a misuse of office. Our commenter adds,

"The 'form' was a one tactic to add a more legal method to intimidate."

There's no evidence at all for this, unless the fact that Dan Breton says so constitutes evidence. More likely, the form was provided just to make it easier for the recipients of the letter to withdraw their claim of Maine residence if that was the way they preferred to handle the issue. And nobody was intimidated.

"And just for your information, there is NO requirement that a voter get a driver's license,"

Of course there isn't. (How cheering--Dan and I do agree on something!) But if a Maine resident drives a car, they are supposed to get a Maine driver's license. If they don't drive, there's no issue.

"no matter what your clan leader says."

I don't have a clan.

"This man is supposed to represent everyone, not just one narrow minority."

If this means he is supposed to say only things which everyone approves of, no public official could possibly do his/her job under these terms. I think he is supposed to uphold the laws of the state, which include requiring residents who drive to get Maine drivers' licenses. Is this a law which only "one narrow minority" approves of? If so, it's news to me. I accepted it as the law of the state after I moved to Maine; so I went and got a Maine license. Isn't that what everyone else did (if they moved here)? If a majority of Maine residents disapprove of the state's motor vehicle laws, then perhaps our legislators can be persuaded to change them; but I have seen no evidence that most Mainers disapprove of the motor vehicle laws.

Doreen Sheive's picture

Unenrollment form

This is the first I've heard about Summers including an unenrollment form in his letter to the students. During this administration, the so-called "constitutional officers" are way too political. It certainly does appear that Summers has crossed the line.

Licia Kuenning's picture

Summers didn't do anything wrong

We've got a commenter here who informs us every time some public figure shows himself to be on the other side of a political issue from the commenter, that that public figure should be charged with a crime and kicked out of office. Let's be glad that this zealot doesn't himself hold an office.

And if creating a form is a crime, then every business, government agency, medical office or organization of every kind will have to be shut down.

I see nothing wrong with informing students who have declared that they reside in Maine what the laws of Maine are about driver's licenses and car registrations. Anyone who would wail that he or she is being threatened instead of just going and getting a Maine driver's license as the rest of us have to do is maybe not old enough to vote.

As for the ACLU, it would be nice to see them doing something about the gross violations of individual civil liberties that take place frequently in this area instead of acting as an auxiliary of the Democratic party.

RONALD RIML's picture

Spell them out

Lucia;

Would you enumerate these "gross violations of individual civil liberties that take place frequently in this area" and present the information to the MCLU for action?

Keep us posted..... As a member I'll be curious to see how it's followed up on.

 's picture

Well, Licia, when you have a

Well, Licia, when you have a public official who misuses their office to threaten and intimidate the public, it is a crime. The 'form' was a one tactic to add a more legal method to intimidate. And just for your information, there is NO requirement that a voter get a driver's license, no matter what your clan leader says. This man is suppose to represent everyone, not just one narrow minority.

 's picture

If the Secretary of State

If the Secretary of State does not apologize immediately, and I don't think he will, he should be brought before a federal judge and made to answer for his crime. Before that ever happens he should be stripped of his office. Creating a 'form' and sending it to certain people is discrimination, pure and simple, and should NOT be tolerated by the people of Maine.

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