LEWISTON — Brendan O’Brien, former chairman of the Maine College Republicans, believes that plenty of students from away vote in Maine while living and attending college here.
“I’m not sure this is right and I’m not saying I fully support it, but a lot of college students do it,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien, who is from Mont Vernon, N.H., graduated from Bates College in May. At the tail end of his junior year in 2010, he ran for elective office in the Maine primary, seeking the District 73 seat representing Lewiston in the House of Representatives.
O’Brien's experience shows how the transient college population can get caught up in choosing where to vote. According to Lewiston city records, O’Brien registered as a Republican in June 2009 and voted that year in Lewiston. He remains on the city’s active voter list but, on Thursday, said he now lives in Greene and will soon be moving to southern Maine to attend law school.
“The way that people live now,” O’Brien said, “it’s very hard to say what your residency specifically is.”
He may also be registered to vote in New Hampshire, where he voted last November because he wanted to be among the Granite State residents casting votes for William O’Brien, who is Brendan O’Brien’s father. The elder O’Brien serves as speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
While he registered in both places, O’Brien said he never voted in both places "at the same time.” He did say, though, that he cast his vote in the town where he thought it would have the most impact. In November, that was New Hampshire. Before that, it was Maine.
Out-of-state students claiming residency in Maine for purposes of voting, even though they are not recognized as residents for purposes of tuition at public schools, has Maine Republican Committee Chairman Charlie Webster claiming voter fraud is highly likely among college students.
On Tuesday, Webster handed a list of 206 names of out-of-state University of Maine System students who are registered to vote in Maine to the Secretary of State’s Office for investigation of possible voter fraud.
The request for an investigation is part of Webster’s campaign against an effort to repeal a new law eliminating Maine’s same-day voter registration. Specifically, Webster said students are violating state law by being registered to vote in two places at the same time.
O’Brien could be registered in two places. He's aware that's not legal, but said the dual registration was not purposeful.
When he registered to vote in New Hampshire for November’s election, New Hampshire election officials should have reported that registration to officials in Lewiston so they could take his name off the voter rolls here. But as of Thursday, that had not happened. It may be that his hometown or the state has not forwarded his new voter registration information to Maine, city voting officials said, even though it’s been more than seven months since O’Brien completed the paperwork.
And while O’Brien registered and voted in New Hampshire last year, he said he is unlikely to vote there any time in the near future because he considers Maine his home.
“There’s no question about it,” he said, “my residency is in Maine.”
O'Brien said he doesn't agree with Webster's campaign targeting college voters.
"I don't have strong feelings that there is that much voter fraud going on in that regard," O'Brien said. "I don't see why it should be an issue in Maine. I think there are bigger issues for the party to focus on."