LEWISTON — In a formal response to Lewiston officials Friday, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap described Mayor Shane Bouchard’s recent letter to new voters as “a disservice to the public discourse.”

The letter to Bouchard came two days after criticism rained down on the mayor from college students and the City Council president, who charged that Bouchard’s statement to new registered voters was voter intimidation.

More than a week ago, Bouchard issued his letter to all 221 people who registered to vote at the polls during last year’s election and mayoral runoff. In it, he laid out the state’s requirements for when someone declares residency in Maine, including getting a Maine driver’s license and vehicle registration. 

“By registering to vote in Lewiston, you have declared residency in Maine, which has consequences for compliance with other Maine laws,” Bouchard said in the letter. 

In his written response, Dunlap doubled down on comments he made to the Sun Journal on Wednesday that argued Bouchard’s letter, while factual, implies voting rights hinge on the residency requirements, which “arouses unfounded fear in the minds of the voting public.” 

Students at Bates College said the letter causes more confusion by only pulling select information on residency requirements while not stipulating voting rights. 

In his response, Dunlap said, “I do not believe, in the context of voter participation, that offering foreboding warnings of dire consequences from failing to oblige administrative requirements attendant to establishing residency can be construed as anything other than an effort to discourage our fellow Americans from participating in their constitutional right to self-governance — whether you intend that to be the message or not.

“Most importantly, those requirements were not crafted with the intent to pose as barriers that must be overcome before a citizen can exercise the right to vote,” he said. 

While Dunlap was made aware of the letter by a city councilor on Tuesday, he didn’t respond directly to Bouchard until Friday. Dunlap’s letter was also sent to the City Council and Lewiston’s legislative delegation. 

Bouchard’s letter states that driving without a Maine license more than 90 days after establishing residency is a crime under Maine law, and that “you may be treated as a resident of Maine for income tax purposes.” 

Dunlap said failing to obtain or update a driver’s license will cause problems — like being called for jury duty in a county in which you no longer live, which happened to Dunlap, or not receiving important notices from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, but he said “not updating a driver’s license or failing to register a vehicle doesn’t prevent one from voting.” 

He also pointed out that a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court case held that denying college students the presumption of a bona fide residency is a violation of the 26th Amendment. 

Bouchard said Friday morning that he had already sent an email response to Dunlap’s letter, and that he appreciated his response. He maintains that the letter to new voters was only “informational,” and that only about one-third of the recipients were Bates College students. 

“My letter has been misconstrued and used for political expediency,” Bouchard said. “Unfortunately we have elected officials who, instead of coming to me for clarification of intent, just started running with an intent of their own.”

City Council President Kristen Cloutier said earlier this week that the letter did not represent the views of the council. 

Bouchard said most people he’s spoken to about the letter told him “it’s very reasonable” and that readers can “easily ascertain that it’s aimed at people who have already registered to vote.” 

“In the end, we’re making a mountain out of a mole hill,” he said. 

On Wednesday, Bouchard said the letter was also meant as a welcoming gesture to the new voters, which Dunlap also addressed. 

“While the letter’s contents are indeed factual, I must observe that the respective processes are not relational; construing them as such leaves the right to vote as subordinate to bureaucratic checklists — which neither the constitution nor the statutes contemplate — and further, it does seem to be a rather awkward way to welcome new residents to a community,” Dunlap said in his letter. 

State Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston, who was among the recipients of Dunlap’s letter Friday, said, “Our democracy works best when barriers to entry are removed and everyone participates. The matter of where college students vote was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court a long time ago. I agree with Secretary Dunlap that Mayor Bouchard’s letter was a fairly awkward way to welcome young people to our city.”

Earlier this week, a representative from the Bates College Democrats said Bouchard’s letter was “clearly trying to use scare tactics to suppress turnout among Bates students.”

A request for comment from the Bates Republicans was not immediately returned Friday. 

[email protected] 

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap speaks at Bates College last week. On Friday, he sent a formal response to Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard, stating Bouchard’s recent letter to new voters causes “unfounded fear” and is “a disservice to the public discourse.” (Sun Journal file photo)

LettertoMayorBouchard.030918 by sunjournal on Scribd

A letter from Mayor Shane Bouchard was sent last week to all 221 people who registered to vote at the polls during last year’s election. Roughly one-third of the recipients were Bates College students. 

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. 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.