Getting the vote right is what counts

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Last September, Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster told The Huffington Post that his campaign to require advance voter registration was a simple matter of drawing attention to “loosey goosey liberal” voting laws in Maine. Those laws, Webster said, make it possible for undocumented immigrants — from Canada — to cross the border and “influence the outcome of U.S. elections.”

Webster’s campaign failed in November when voters supported a referendum preserving same-day voter registration.

Fast forward three months and it is Webster who appears, even to members of his own party, to be working to influence the outcome of U.S. elections.

Truly.

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The GOP caucus season officially began on Jan. 29. Franklin County Republicans met Feb. 4, most of the state’s caucuses were held last Saturday — the 11th — while Republicans in Washington County and in 14 towns in Hancock County are scheduled to caucus this Saturday. Towns have until March 3 to caucus.

But, before all of the straw votes had even been cast, Webster announced to the world that Mitt Romney won “the” Maine caucus.

We might understand if the count as of Feb. 11 resembled a landslide, but that’s not the case. Romney was declared the winner over Ron Paul by only 194 votes, with potentially hundreds more to be counted through March 3.

There’s more.

The votes cast by Feb. 11 in Waterville were not counted, and according to an email sent to Kennebec County GOP members, as much as 15 percent of the votes cast for Ron Paul in towns throughout that county were not counted.

In the world of elections, 15 percent is a big, big number.

And, given that Romney and Paul are separated by a mere 3.47 percent, according to the GOP’s incomplete results, a 15 percent error is staggering.

Republicans, who vigorously supported Webster in his quest to clamp down on those “loosey goosey” voting laws, have turned on him.

On Tuesday, after abandoning the idea of calling for Webster’s resignation, Waldo County Republicans voted to ask the state Republican Committee to censure Webster for not including most results in that county in the statewide tally.

Censure him? Sure, there’s the pain of an official rebuke, but a censure is not going to force a true count.

Not only has Webster acknowledged that not all votes cast have been counted, he has announced that any votes cast Feb. 18 or later won’t count at all.

If the Democrats had handled caucus results with such disregard, Webster would have been among the first — and certainly among the most vitriolic — in attacking party members.

In defending his decision to announce the winner 14 days into the 35-day caucus cycle, Webster said Republican committees across Maine were told the results would be announced Feb. 11 and it was up to members to meet before that. He never told anyone, though, that their votes wouldn’t count if they caucused later in the month. Perhaps he assumed that was understood among the membership.

It wasn’t, as Webster now knows, so what’s the harm in correcting the error and getting the vote right?

Sure, it’s a nonbinding straw vote. But, until the GOP state convention in May, it will be the official result in Maine and counts in Romney’s favor. Correct or not.

If delegates return a different result at the state convention, Maine will appear incompetent and we can collectively brace ourselves for national ridicule.

GOP party officials can fix this problem by counting all votes cast if it wants to, and it should. Because, really, the goal here is to elect the right candidate. Right?

On the conservative forum asmainegoes.com, one member put it best: “This fiasco shows that either a) the State Committee was manipulating proactively to help Romney get his national news for the Sunday papers; or, b) there is a vast incompetence in the state party office. Either way, this is disgusting and puts the entire GOP in a bad light.”

Exactly.

Last year, Webster was hellbent to prove widespread voter fraud.

He was all about making sure every vote counted, and now he doesn’t even want to count the votes of the faithful in his own party.

Irony?

Or just plain arrogance.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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