Letter to new Lewiston voters stirs controversy


LEWISTON — A letter sent by Mayor Shane Bouchard to new voters who registered at the polls during last year’s election has been met with criticism from Maine’s Secretary of State, the City Council president and Bates College students, who say the notice is nothing more than “scare tactics” to deter students from voting. 

In his City Hall office Wednesday, Bouchard said the letter, which describes the expectations of a voter following registration, was purely “informational,” meant to clear up post-election confusion he saw on social media about state law. 

He said the letter was sent to all new voters, not only Bates College students. 

However, students said the letter causes more confusion by using select information from the Secretary of State’s website, while leaving out more important information about student voting rights. 


The letter, dated Feb. 5, was sent to 221 people. In it, Bouchard wrote, “By registering to vote in Lewiston, you have declared residency in Maine, which has consequences for compliance with other Maine laws.” 

The letter lays out the state’s requirements when someone declares residency in Maine, including getting a Maine driver’s license and vehicle registration. 

During last year’s municipal election, 481 voters were under the age of 25 and registered with a Bates College address.

Bouchard, a Republican, said the letter was not an attempt to dissuade students from voting. It begins by welcoming and thanking the new voter. After all, he said, those registering at the polls presumably voted in last year’s election and mayoral runoff against Ben Chin, and Bouchard won.

“Most people have no idea what the requirements are. It’s making sure people are aware, because it’s not information that’s really out there,” he said. “And when it is put out there, it’s used in a negative way.”

He said he wanted new voters to have “the actual facts” after registering, rather than seeing incorrect information on social media. 

‘An affirmative right to vote’ 

Secretary of State Dunlap said Wednesday that Bouchard’s letter, while factual, is “constructed backwards” and implies that if a voter does not comply with the motor vehicle statutes after voting, they are a criminal. 

“I categorically disagree with that,” Dunlap said. “There’s pretty much no connectivity between motor vehicle statutes and election law. As an American citizen, you have an affirmative right to vote, and then we work backwards from that. We don’t take all these other administrative responsibilities and say you have to live up to all of this before you can be a voter in the state of Maine.” 

Dunlap said he was drafting a letter to send to Bouchard. 

For Bates students, the language in the letter is reminiscent of anonymous notes that were left on student vehicles in 2016, which incorrectly said students were required to update driver’s licenses and register their vehicles in Lewiston prior to voting.

During the City Council meeting Tuesday, council President Kristen Cloutier, who works for the college, said she found out about the letter after a call from a constituent. With Bouchard by her side, she said the letter was not representative of the views of the City Council, and that it was drafted without any input from councilors. 

She said it’s “disappointing” that Bouchard didn’t reach out to the Secretary of State’s office prior to issuing the letter. After getting a copy of the letter, Cloutier said she reached out to Dunlap’s office directly. 

College students voting in the local municipality has become somewhat of a perennial issue. 

Gov. Paul LePage said in 2016 that students who wanted to vote should register their cars in Maine and pay taxes locally if they expected to vote. But in response, Dunlap said students had a “fundamental” right to vote and that updating driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations first was not a requirement in Maine.

Bouchard said Wednesday that his letter “does not imply that you have to do these things before voting.”  

According to the Maine Secretary of State’s voting residence fact sheet, “If you are a student, you have the right to register in the municipality in Maine where you attend school.”

The fact sheet, which is also where Bouchard pulled his information, also states, “Maine law expressly provides that you will not gain or lose residency solely because of your presence in or absence from the state while attending school, and this provision may not be interpreted ‘to prevent a student at any institution of learning from qualifying as a voter’ in the town ‘where the student resides while attending’ that school.”

Dunlap said Wednesday that letters like Bouchard’s are often “directed at college students.” He said last year in Orono, an email spread among students that said if you registered to vote and voted in Orono, you could lose your out-of-state financial aid. 

“That scares the hell out of a kid,” he said. 

Dunlap previously served on the now-defunct presidential commission on election integrity, and he sued the Trump administration for access to information about the commission’s work that he had been denied.

Dunlap was at Bates College last week, where he spoke about his experiences on the voter fraud commission.

‘Political opportunism’ 

Max Gardner, a sophomore at Bates who serves as communications director of the Bates Democrats, said the group is “incredibly disappointed with Bouchard’s misleading letter” sent to many Bates students, particularly since he is mayor. 

“The unabridged right to vote in this country is fundamental and the mayor is clearly trying to use scare tactics to suppress turnout among Bates students,” Gardner said.

“The mayor chose to selectively pick pieces of Maine law which could be useful to scare Bates students from voting,” he said, but Dunlap “has repeatedly asserted Maine college students’ right to vote in their respective localities — and, as the chief election official of our state, we will follow his guidance.”

Gardner said, “Bates students know our rights and we will keep all of our options open as this situation develops. Nonetheless, this all could be resolved quickly if the mayor publicly retracts this letter and apologizes for its misleading and inaccurate message.”

Gardner pointed out that “as Maine residents, state income tax is deducted from all of our paychecks and we pay state sales tax with all of our in-state purchases.”

The Lewiston Democratic Party issued a statement calling Bouchard’s letter “a blatant abuse of power.”

“We hope the City Council will hold him accountable for his actions,” it said.

The party vowed to “continue to fight for every citizen’s right to cast a vote and make their voice heard.”

City Administrator Ed Barrett said postage to send out the letters cost $99.17, and that processing was done by office staff “within their existing workday.” 

He said he was not aware of any responses to the letter from residents.

Bouchard said that he somewhat expected political rivals to “spin” his letter as intimidation, calling it “political opportunism.” He said if his letter were truly aimed at voter suppression, he’d be motivating a base of people to vote against him.

“Why would I do that?” he said. 

Staff writer Steve Collins contributed to this report. 

Voters line up to get their runoff ballots at Longley Elementary School in Lewiston in December 2017.  Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard issued an informational letter last week to new voters in the city. Some say it is an attempt to deter students from voting. (Sun Journal file photo) 

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap speaks at Bates College last week about his time on the national voter fraud commission. On Wednesday, Dunlap responded to a letter sent to new Lewiston voters from Mayor Shane Bouchard. (Sun Journal file photo)

A letter from Mayor Shane Bouchard was sent to 221 people in Lewiston who registered at the polls during last year’s election in November and mayoral runoff in December. 

  • Jon Mennealy

    I hope Mayor Bouchard is also keeping equal watch over the snowbirds who drive north with their Florida licenses and registrations to live here (and vote in the June primaries, and maybe the November elections) for the warmer months.

    • Walter Bishop

      With no proof whatsoever Jon, you are assuming that happen. Bouchard is right.

    • Disqus1965

      Prove they’re voting in the June primaries or the November general elections. Go ahead.

  • Danny Fitzsimmons

    Dunlop AS YOU STATE it is completely factual and if it is the law and you break the law then you are a criminal, and you have a degree.. in what?? Most of these kids are taught to be activists by schools pushed to vote and yes they vote but not just here but at home too, and that is where it is Truly a felony act, and THAT THEY SHOULD BE TAUGHT at school. at bare minimum they could have a scholarship(s) pulled. If someone was to investigate this I am sure they would find this fraud happening and any, that means any fraud carried over postal means is a federal offence and a felony Sorry like so many bureaucrats Dunlop you don’t know how to follow the laws your in charge of enforcing, maybe you should resign.

    • Cobbosee


  • bob Mennealy

    Typical republican BS, Chin was a better candidate!

    • Walter Bishop

      Typical BS response from Mennealy.

  • joe

    Perhaps Matt Dunlap has two incompatible roles. The legislature should separate them.

  • CLibbey

    Boo-Hoo. Sounds like Bates students need to grow up. They could start by learning state laws and follow them.

    • Disqus1965

      That would make a most welcome change.

  • Mary Jane Newell

    wow..Democrats are really scared some illegal might not vote after reading this…The letter doesn’t discourage anyone from voting..Dunlap is a liberal and is all about illegals voting! Thats why we have motor voter..no one checks if the one getting the license is legally a citizen or not…Thats the liberal way..no democrat would ever get elected if all the votes were legal….

  • Disqus1965

    Can we tell Dunlap is running for governor? If he wasn’t running a campaign, he might tell the truth, which is that Bouchard’s letter is merely informational. Completely legal and factual, nothing untoward or improper.

    The Bates Dems and the other sour-grapes folks who supported Chin? Get over it… your guy lost, fair and square. Bouchard is within his rights to send the letter, and there’s nothing wrong with it. He sent it to every new voter, not just a select group.

    • Internet Research Agency

      He sent it to every new voter, not just a select group.

      No… he definitely sent the letter to just a select group. He only sent it to Bates students… He did not send one to every new voter.

      • keenosmith

        I believe he did send it to all newly registered voters.

        • Internet Research Agency

          He only sent it to those with Bates addresses.

  • bob Mennealy

    If not for the fake news generated by the Maine GOP chair newsletter the Examiner,+other dirty tricks, Chin would probably have won.

    • Les Gibson

      Bob Mennealy, fake news? Really? You’re still beating that dead horse? Chin admitted to writing the emails. And the Maine Ethics Commission tossed Chin and Bartletts frivolous ethics compaint. The only person responsible for Chin’s loss is Chin himself.

  • Les Gibson

    Imagine my surprise that Mayor
    Bouchard puts out a well crafted informational letter and every progressive democrat in the area goes out of their mind. Personally, I feel that out of state students should only be allowed to vote in their home states via absentee ballot. Our military personel who are stationed away from their home aren’t allowed to vote in local elections where they are stationed so why should from out of state college students be allowed to? The answer is simple. The democrats depend upon this type of irregular voting to advance their agenda.

    It’s also very clear that Council President Cloutier has an agenda of undermining Mayor Bouchard. The fact that Cloutier is employed by Bates College appears to be a conflict of interest.

    As for this kid Gardner, the head of the Bates democrats, making subtle threats against Mayor Bouchard is just another indicator of the hostility and bias that Mayor Bouchard is being baselessly confronted with.

    • Velma McConnell

      Actually….our armed services members serving out if state have the same options provided to them. Or out of state service members living and working in Maine. You can vote absentee ballot for your home state OR you can register in the state you live in, which declares intent to become a resident of that state… meaning transferring your driver’s license, car registration etc.

      The only advantage the military has over college students is that they cam live outside their state of residence for the entire time of their service to our country and maintain their residency in that state.

      • Les Gibson

        Well, Velma, perhaps things have changed since my time in the military. Still doesn’t change my opinion that students from out of state should not be allowed to vote in our local elections.

        • Velma McConnell

          It was this way when my husband was in. Each state has different requirements but to register to vote you have to be a resident of the state. This requirements vary. But being in the military only removes you from the physical residency requirement.

          I don’t mind college students voting in states where they spend most of their time. I worry about what is done to ensure that voter fraud can’t happen… but I also don’t assume it is rampant because there is no proof of it.

          My opinion would be to end same day registration so that those registering somewhere for the first time can be removed from their old location.

    • sdemetri

      “every progressive democrat in the area goes out of their mind…?” Really? You’ve got some mind scanning radar there making that presumptuous determination. Seems significant to me that the Secretary of State, a position apparently you have little respect of and less use for, offers an expert opinion and you are triggered. Seeing the Mayor of Lewiston has no real jurisdiction when it comes to driver’s licensing, vehicle registration, or state income tax I find it interesting why he thinks he does. I can read his letter as either a deliberate effort to confuse newly registered voters, as Dunlap has suggested, or as an overreach by someone thinking his local elected position grants him more authority than it actually by law and legal precedent does… in other words, he’s thinking himself more than what he actually, or as my Grandma might say, too big for his britches…

      Authoritarians, all the rage these days from LePage to Trump and now (apparently) this small city Mayor, often think that way.

      A country that values democracy will find ways to get as many people who are determined to lawfully exercise their civil duty of voting will find ways to make that participation as broad as possible. A country, or party that doesn’t share that value, will find every reason to thwart that participation.

      • Les Gibson

        And here we have what appears to be a leftist who doesn’t understand that we are not a democracy. We are a Representive Republic. Big difference between the two. I would suggest that you do some research on the subject, but I know such a suggegtion would fall upon deaf ears.

        I find labeling Governor LePage, President Trump and Mayor Bouchard as ‘authoritarians’ amusing. It is not being ‘authoritarian’ to uphold the rule of law. That’s called living up to your oath of office and being responsible.

        You say I have no respect for Secretary Dunlap or his office. You are wrong on both counts.
        Secretary Dunlap is a good man whom I respect. However, I am entitled to disagree with his decisions. I do not agree that out of state college students, most or whom have no intention of staying in Maine, should be allowed to vote in our local elections. The argument that they should just because they pay tax on whatever income they earn and pay sales tax on items they buy doesn’t hold water. They would have to do so where ever they are. But the system is set up for them to come here for 2 or 4 years, be indoctrinated by the local leftist special interest groups such as the Maine Peoples Alliance, and sent to the polls to push the leftist agenda of the day. Then these same students graduate and leave Maine. But the damage their votes potentially causes lingers long after they leave.

        I found nothing coercive, intimidating or misleading in Mayor Bouchard’s letter. It was factual and to the point.
        Of course Secretary Dunlap would say otherwise, after all, him being a Democrat, at the end of the day he is still required to adhere to the Democrat agenda. The same goes for Council President Cloutier.

        • sdemetri

          “We are a Representive Republic. Big difference between the two. I would suggest that you do some research on the subject, but I know such a suggegtion would fall upon deaf ears.”

          American democracy is a representative republic… Presuming I am talking about something other than our American style of democracy is a weak feint meant to deflect my criticism of how Republicans have been working overtime for decades now to suppress the vote from those they think are less worthy of voting.

          Good to hear that you respect Dunlap and his office, and you certainly are entitled to disagree with him. You are also entitled to disagree with the laws that allow college students showing Maine residency to vote in local elections. Not sure why you are quick to impute upon students less than honorable motives for wanting to engage in their civil duty of voting on issues that directly effect where they are living. Participation is a good thing, and should be encouraged.

          Students living up to 4 yrs, if an undergraduate, sometimes considerably longer if they do post-grad work, and where local policy decisions effect their lives have not only the legal right to participate but it is in their interest as American citizens to do so. You should applaud their desire to engage when so many others don’t. Enthusiasm to participate in policy decisions is an expression of democratic ideals, even American-style democratic ideals. Suppressing that ability to participate isn’t. The local issues effecting them where they reside are not the local issues in their home states where they aren’t residing. Your framework of what is acceptable participation doesn’t make much sense to me. Local elections deal with “in the moment” decisions. What a student’s future plans are doesn’t have much bearing on what needs to be decided in the moment. You are willing to deny them that ability to participate.

          In the broad spectrum of authoritarian possibilities, LePage, Trump and other politicians most certainly show signs of thinking un-democratically and autocratically. The Mayor’s letter, as I said, hinted at over-reaching his authority. The question is why.

        • Internet Research Agency

          A “Representative Republic” is a type of Democracy you dolt. It’s like claiming “I’m not eating ice cream, I’m eating Rocky Road”. There is NOT a big difference. It’s a stupid linguistic argument conservatives use to avoid uncomfortable topics. They do it in the gun control debate as well.

          • keenosmith

            There is a big difference, it is not a type of democracy.

          • Internet Research Agency

            Yes, it is a type of democracy. It’s also known as a “Representative Democracy”.

        • Internet Research Agency

          It’s obvious that this letter is a response to conservatives whining about Bates students voting. You all claim that the letter has nothing to do with that, then go on to complain about exactly that.

  • Good for Mayor Bouchard. The Secretary of State is deliberately distorting the narrative. Bates College students do have the right to vote…once. They can vote in their state of declared residency…whether it’s where they go to school or where they live. They have to choose. They cannot vote in both places. They registered in Maine? Fine. You can vote…as a Maine resident. They cannot legally vote in another state. You’re declared yourself a Maine resident by registering to vote in Maine? Fine. As a newly declared Maine resident, you must register your vehicle here and pay appropriate fees and taxes. Earning money as a newly declared Maine worker? Fine. You can now pay Maine taxes. As for being the “will of the city council?” Perhaps Ms. Cloutier should ask herself if the mayor’s position is the will the citizens of Lewiston. Outside of the hallowed halls of Bates College and its myopia, she will find the citizens of Lewiston agree.

    • sdemetri

      The letter says nothing about voting in Maine “once.” You seem to be implying that was part of the Mayor’s advice to students. Is this something you think students are doing and therefore that suspicion has some bearing on whether the Mayor should be seen as acting properly by sending this letter? Sounds like your peevishness to me…

      The “hallowed halls of Bates College…?” What’s with the divisiveness? The “will of the citizens of Lewiston…?” Bates is an integral part of Lewiston, an active community member contributing to and enhancing Lewiston through education, culture and arts. Your city will be poorer without Bates in lots of ways. Sounds like you need an attitude adjustment, one that makes you a better community member.

      • RegMainer

        Bates may be an “integral part of Lewiston” but students of Bates need to “crap or get off the pot.” They either live here or they don’t when it comes to voting. And I agree. You want to vote here? You want to be a part of the community? Good. Do what the other Mainers do. If they won’t do that, they are squatters, not community members. They should vote absentee in their home states, not here.

        • sdemetri

          The letter says just the opposite, that they are welcome… Seems you are chasing imaginary squirrels too.

          • CircumventLogic

            They are welcome once they pay taxes. This is the crux of his argument. If you want to vote become a Maine state citizen. Pretty novel idea, huh?

          • sdemetri

            Not especially novel at all, especially given that college students’ rights to vote while studying in Maine has already been determined. Paying taxes isn’t a prerequisite to voting. Again, you seem confused about Maine law, and the legal rights of residents, whether college students or not. This exercise of trying to pin blame on college students is just like chasing squirrels… the issue gets away from you pretty quickly and is well out of reach before you’ve made any progress on it.

            Deliberately trying to suppress the vote in a country that prides itself as the world’s leading democracy isn’t anything I would boast about as being a good upstanding effort by patriotic citizens.

          • Internet Research Agency

            They don’t pay taxes?… Do you have as citation for that?

            Pretty sure if you work in Maine you pay Maine income tax regardless of where you live.

    • Internet Research Agency

      Do you have any evidence at all that these college students are voting more than once?… Why would they need to be reminded of that?

      And if you earn money in the State you pay income tax to the State, it doesn’t matter where you file residency.

      It’s abundantly obvious by you and other conservative commenters on this forum that you guys are upset that Bates kids are allowed to vote in local elections. You’ll just have to get over it.

  • CircumventLogic

    Instead of committing voter fraud why don’t they get an absentee ballot from the state/town they are registered? Liberals are always saying we don’t want outside influences impacting an election, well, this is what happens when 481 voters are registered to the same address.

    • sdemetri

      Your screen name seems very apt… your comments do just that…

    • alstraub

      because voting where you attend college full time has been litigated to death. Students have a right to vote where they attend college!

  • sdemetri

    A country that values democracy will find ways to get as many people who are determined to lawfully exercise their civil duty of voting will find ways to make that participation as broad as possible. A country, or party that doesn’t share that value, will find every reason to thwart that participation.

    Authoritarians, all the rage these days from LePage to Trump and now (apparently) this small city Mayor, often think that way.