After Maine Gov. Paul LePage threatened to check up on college students who vote Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union urged the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the governor for violating the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition on intimidating those seeking to cast ballots.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said LePage’s comments “only inflame an atmosphere of doubt and fear among the voters.”

The controversy emerged after anonymous fliers were distributed over the weekend at Bates College that warned students they could face legal jeopardy if they register and vote Tuesday without taking other steps to become Maine residents, such as changing to a Maine driver’s license and re-registering their vehicles in Maine.

Madison Shipler, a Bates freshman, said she noticed the “very aggressive” orange signs posted all over the dining hall Saturday and quickly decided with a friend to tear them down. 

“Especially in this election, voting is huge,” said Shipler, who grew up in Maryland and plans to head to the polls in Lewiston.

LePage weighed in Monday with a written statement that doubled down on the fliers’ language.


The governor said he welcomes college students establishing residency in Maine “as long as they follow all laws that regulate voting, motor vehicles and taxes. We cannot tolerate voter fraud in our state.”

Then he added that after the election, “We will do everything we can that is allowed under state and federal law to verify college students who voted here are following Maine law.”

Many, including Shipler and Abi Rabideau, co-president of the Bates Democrats, took his comments as a threat.

“He should respect my right to vote,” Shipler said Monday. “This is a really exciting time and I’m really passionate about it.

Dunlap said, “It says a great deal that these fliers have been distributed with no attribution as to who paid for them or who is responsible for their content — which is illegal.

“Attempting to prevent American citizens from participating in their democratic process of self-governance through intimidation and fear is shameful, and it should be treasonable,” Dunlap said.


The chairman of the Lewiston Republican Party, Shane Bouchard, said GOP leaders had nothing to do with fliers and called on the city police to investigate them.

Bouchard said Republicans “feel that the literature is a blatant attempt at voter intimidation and should be treated as such.”

“It is our belief that any person who has met all legal requirements for voting may, and should be encouraged to cast their vote where they wish. We do not condone nor endorse voter intimidation, voter suppression or voter fraud of any kind,” Bouchard said.

But other Republicans said they suspect the fliers were actually put out by Democrats seeking to juice up the student vote.

Shipler said she saw a man “running around putting up all sorts” of the signs, but she didn’t know him.

Attorney General Janet Mills said in a written statement “no one should fear financial consequences for exercising their constitutional right to vote. There are no financial penalties, and it is shameful that anyone would suggest otherwise.


“I call upon leaders and candidates of all parties to disavow efforts of any sort to intimidate and disenfranchise voters,” she said.

Zachary Heiden, legal director for the Maine ACLU, said selectively targeting college students or any other group is against federal law because it aims at making them scared to exercise their right to vote.

Dunlap said fliers distributed anonymously at Bates College over the weekend “appear to be targeting college students in order to discourage them from registering to vote and participating in their democratic form of self-government.”

The fliers said that “if you choose to register and vote in Lewiston” as an out-of-state student, “you MUST” change your driver’s license to a Maine license and register your vehicle here, after getting it inspected. It pointed out those measures might cost hundreds of dollars.

Heiden said it’s illegal to tie voting to other responsibilities of citizenship in a bid to coerce and harass people who want to cast a ballot.

He said the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibit the sort of intimidation intrinsic in both the flier and LePage’s comments about it Monday.


“This is serious business,” Heiden said. He said Maine law also protects voters, so he’s sure the Attorney General’s Office will also look into it.

Dunlap issued a written statement that told students there is an “expectation that you obtain a Maine driver’s license and do other public business as a Maine resident.”

But, he said, “whether an individual obtains a Maine driver’s license or not has no impact on your ability to exercise your right to vote.”

“Voting in Maine has no price,” state Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said during a news conference held at Bates on Monday.

“There is no statutory connectivity between motor vehicle law and election law, and no one should be deterred from voting because of other aspects of residency found in other titles of Maine law,” Dunlap said.

“College students who live in Maine have the right to vote in Maine, and they are not subject to different laws than anyone else,” Heiden said.


“Many of these young people are voting for the first time in a presidential election,” he said. “The governor should be encouraging that civic participation, not doing everything in his power to undermine it.”

Lewiston GOP Chairman Bouchard said he was upset that state Sen. Nate Libby and state Rep. Jared Golden said Sunday the GOP may have been involved, and called on them to apologize “for these slanderous statements” and join Republicans in seeking a police probe of what happened.

Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald said he didn’t think the police should get involved. “This is a political thing,” he said.

He said he suspects the fliers were actually the work of Democrats aiming “to juice up the kids at Bates College” and get them angry enough to vote. He said they may have been posted by “some moron,” but they also may have been spread around by “a pretty sleazy outfit” trying to stir the pot.

“Having to rely on false-flag operations days before an election shows that the Democrats are desperate because Mainers are not on board with their agenda,” said Androscoggin County Republican Chairwoman Patti Gagne.

Rabideau laughed at the notion pushed by Gagne and Macdonald. She said that dealing with the “misinformation” stirred up by the signs and the governor has cut into time Democrats would have spent on get-out-the-vote efforts and perhaps encouraged some students not to vote.


The Bates student government issued a statement that said students who call Lewiston home for nine months of the year “have the right to vote on the issues and candidates that impact us at Bates College.”

“Voting in Maine means truly identifying as a Maine resident and being involved in the Lewiston-Auburn community in addition to the Bates community,” according to the statement supplied by sophomore Oliver Farnum. “This is a responsibility that Bates students take seriously, and the idea that an individual or a group would be making an effort to stop us from being civically engaged in this community is deeply upsetting.” 


  • All day coverage from across Maine and the nation at
  • All election stories will be free to read
  • Live local, statewide and national results and video on, Facebook and Twitter throughout the night
  • Complete roundup in Wednesday’s print edition

VIDEO: A Bates College student speaks out at a press conference Monday on fliers found on campus intended to discourage Bates students from voting Tuesday. 

More coverage: Secretary of state addresses students about voting | Paul LePage wants college students voting in Maine to be residents | Voter suppression effort decried at Bates College

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.