AUGUSTA, Maine — Secretary of State Charlie Summers said Thursday that he would expand his investigation into possible voter fraud, citing recent allegations by a state Bureau of Motor Vehicles employee that she was ordered to shred documents related to nonresidents registering to vote in Maine elections.
Summers’ news conference to discuss voter fraud came three days after Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster called for an investigation into the voting records of more than 206 college students he believed may have voted fraudulently in the 2010 election.
The secretary did not specifically address Webster’s allegations but said they would be folded into the broader investigation that includes the accusations he heard earlier this month.
On July 1, a Bureau of Motor Vehicles employee reportedly told Summers that, in years past, she accepted voter registration forms from customers she thought were “noncitizens.” She said when she later brought her concerns to the Secretary of State’s Office under previous administrations she was told to disregard that activity and destroy the evidence she had collected to support her claims. Summers declined to specify the dates of the alleged offenses.
“What I find most alarming is that when her suspicions were brought forward, senior-level management within the Department of the Secretary of State ordered that these files be shredded,” Summers said.
Asked whether the senior-level officials who reportedly encouraged shredding documents were still employed by his office, Summers said he could not comment.
Summers said he is working with the Attorney General’s Office to investigate those allegations but he offered no timetable for when that probe might be completed.
Summers initially alleged that potentially fraudulent voters came into the Bureau of Motor Vehicles by busload, but when pressed about that, he backed off. Under the states’ motor-voter program, people receiving or renewing their driver’s licences also can register to vote at the BMV.
Although he was not mentioned by name Thursday, former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said he was blindsided by the allegations and was surprised Summers did not give him advance notice.
Dunlap denied knowledge of any such allegations of voter fraud under his watch and questioned Summers’ motives for implicating him, albeit indirectly.
“I guess it’s kind of an open secret that I’m considering a run against his former boss [U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe],” Dunlap said by phone. “That’s a little too convenient for me.”
Summers served as Snowe’s state director from 1995 to 2004.
Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-York, said he hoped the investigation would be “conducted in an open and transparent manner” and looked forward to its findings. But he warned against politicizing the issue.
“I hope this situation is not used as a political football. This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue — voter fraud is not tolerated by any political party,” Hobbins said in a statement. “The people of Maine deserve an honest process into the matter.”
The investigation comes on the heels of the passage of LD 1376, which reversed Maine’s 38-year practice of allowing voters to register on Election Day. Supporters, including Summers, said the bill was initiated to bring integrity to the election process and alleviate stress on municipal clerks.
A people’s veto effort is now under way to gather signatures in an attempt to overturn that change. A coalition of volunteers needs to gather more than 57,000 signatures to force a statewide vote, either in November or next June, that would reinstate Election Day registration.
Since the petition drive began, Webster has spoken out numerous times in an effort to link same-day voter registration to voter fraud. Summers, however, said Thursday that his investigation is not related to same-day voter registration.
On Monday, Webster delivered a list of 206 names — all out-of-state students attending public Maine universities last year — to the Secretary of State’s Office and urged Summers to investigate whether those students voted legally.
Specifically, Webster questioned whether those students had established residency in Maine or whether they voted twice — in Maine and in their home states.
Although Webster’s allegations of voter fraud by university students took a back seat Thursday to the new claims made by Summers, a former college student took issue with the head of the Maine GOP.
Kevin Price, a recent University of Maine graduate and a registered Republican who runs a blog commenting on Maine politics, wrote this week that efforts to restrict voting access by members of his own party is just wrong.
“While I am not one of the students Webster has decided to target, I still take issue with his accusations,” Price wrote in a blog post on July 27. “This has to be one of the most blatant and embarrassing attempts to control the outcomes of an election to favor one party in recent Maine history.”
Earlier this week, longtime Kennebec County District Attorney Evert Fowle said he has prosecuted very few cases of voter fraud because, in his opinion, there is little proof to back up any claims.
Whether or not the Secretary of State’s Office, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, finds enough evidence to prove otherwise could take months, Summers said.
It was only last month when Summers said Maine’s election system is well-run and devoid of fraud. Asked Thursday if he feels the same way, the secretary replied, “Obviously, I was wrong.”