Maine political group wants more information on GOP university van use

Posted Aug. 02, 2011, at 4:58 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Maine political group has asked University of Maine System officials for more information to determine if a tactic by Maine College Republicans in 2010 to thwart get-out-the-vote efforts by opponents at the University of Maine at Farmington was more widespread.

Last week, Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said the group Maine College Republicans reserved vans at the University of Maine at Farmington on Election Day 2010 so the vehicles could not be used for get-out-the-vote drives by opponents.

Chris Korzen, director of Maine’s Majority, said Monday his group is seeking public records from the University of Maine System to show whether vans were reserved by Maine College Republicans at other campuses. Maine’s Majority also is seeking to determine who exactly signed out the UMF vans in 2010.

According to Webster, in 2010 Maine College Republicans reserved three of the five buses that UMF allows student organizations to sign out. He said last week the vans were parked at a nearby Walmart parking lot so they wouldn’t be used to haul student voters to the polls, but said Monday he found out the vans were left on campus.

Over the last several weeks Webster has been campaigning against an effort to repeal a recently passed law that eliminates same-day voter registration in Maine.

Webster has said college students are among those who have abused the same-day registration law and that Democratic operatives and other liberal organizations have used the law to “flood the polls” with supporters.

On Friday, Webster said he and UMF’s College Republicans were opposed to using any taxpayer resources for political purposes and that after parking the UMF vans, Franklin County Republicans used their personal vehicles to take voters to the polls.

Katie Guare, president of the College Democrats at UMF, said Monday that their student group had no intent in 2010 of using UMF vans for get-out-the-vote efforts. So the tactic employed by College Republicans had no impact on them but did appear to be a misuse of college resources.

“Based on Webster’s statements, we know that he and the Maine College Republicans conspired to subvert get-out-the-vote efforts in Farmington last year,” Korzen said in a news release Monday. “The apparent intended effect of this action was to suppress turnout of legal voters.”

According to its website, Maine’s Majority is a nonpartisan campaign “by Mainers who believe that our elected leaders should represent all of our citizens.”

Much of its campaign focuses on the premise that 61.9 percent of the votes cast in the 2010 gubernatorial race were for a candidate other than the candidate who won, Republican Gov. Paul LePage, and that LePage therefore should consider the wishes of all voters, not just the 38 percent who voted for him.

Korzen also questioned whether the effort to keep the vans out of use was legal.

“What we don’t know is how deep this conspiracy went,” Korzen said. “At the very least, Webster and his collaborators have demonstrated a profound contempt for democratic values. They may also have broken the law.”

Webster said Monday the effort was confined to UMF and not a widespread conspiracy. He said one of the Maine College Republicans came up with the idea.

“I don’t even remember which one it was now,” Webster said. “But [Maine's Majority] can FOAA anything they want. There was no big scheme. One student came up with the idea, they all liked it and they all agreed to it.”

UMF officials confirmed last week that three of the university’s five vans were reserved by UMF’s College Republicans on Election Day 2010.

Also last week, Webster asked Maine’s attorney general to investigate whether college students have committed voter fraud in past elections by voting here without being actual Maine residents.

He said part of his opposition to same-day voter registration is based on his desire to protect the voting rights of all legitimate voters in Maine. He said anybody voting illegally could be disenfranchising a legal voter by “canceling out the vote of a legal voter with an illegal vote.”

“People want to know that their vote counts,” Webster said.

He said once a person registers to vote in Maine they are stating their intention to be a Maine resident. Webster alleged that many people who have registered to vote in Maine did not do other things that signal their intention to be residents, such as get a Maine driver’s license or identification card.

“It’s all about intent, and many of these people had no intent of ever being Maine residents,” Webster said.

He said he hopes the end result of the debates and investigations into potential voter fraud and same-day voting registration will result in an even more stringent voter registration law for Maine.

Maine law does not require a person registering to vote in Maine to declare their intention to be a Maine resident. It does require them to be 18 on Election Day, be a U.S. citizen, and have proof of identification and residency in the town in which they are registering, among other information.

To see more from the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.

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