June 22, 2018
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Data: Maine public university vehicles used sparingly for student voting

By Scott Thistle, Sun Journal

LEWISTON, Maine — Data from the University of Maine System released this week show university vehicles were used sparingly to take student voters to the polls on Election Day in 2008 and 2010.

The information contrasts sharply with claims by Maine Republican Party Chairman Charles Webster that university resources were used to help Democratic organizers flood the polls with young voters.

Webster said in July that College Republicans had reserved vans at the University of Maine at Farmington in 2010 and parked them so they wouldn’t be used by Democrats.

Wednesday, Webster claimed College Democrats also reserved a van and parked it. He said Democrats who have lost elections are trying to fabricate reasons for those loses.

“Those who are losing elections or who are liberal as hell think what we got here is some kind of big scheme by somebody to stop this,” Webster said. “I hope when this is all said and done it becomes illegal; no way we should be using these buses.”

Webster released a page-long statement accusing UMF College Democrats of practicing voter suppression and charging the Maine Democratic Party with hypocrisy.

“Maine Democrats have criticized and attacked Republicans because they didn’t use taxpayer-funded vans to drive voters to the polls,” Webster wrote. “We now find out that the Democrat Party parked the van that they had reserved. Who is suppressing the vote?”

Celeste Branham, vice president of community and student services at UMF, confirmed Thursday that College Republicans and College Democrats both reserved university vehicles for Election Day 2010, but both groups also canceled those reservations well in advance, so the vehicles were left in the university motor pool.

“Consequently, the vans were available for use by others on that day,” Branham said. “Even if they had not canceled their reservations, the vans would have been available for others within two hours of a no-show on a reservation, but that was not in fact the case; both organizations canceled their reservations, freeing up the vehicles.”

Branham said Republicans reserved the three largest vans on Oct. 1, 2010, and that Democrats had reserved a car sometime after that.

“We don’t have a large fleet of vans and cars, so [College Democrats] would have been out of luck if the three vans had already been reserved,” Branham said. “It’s done on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Other data provided by the university show that only two vans were actually used at UMF on Election Day 2010. Neither was used for voting-related activities. One went to a hockey game, the other to an event for empowering girls in Phillips.

The data include all vehicles that were signed out by students or faculty on Election Day in 2008 and 2010. It includes vehicle identification numbers, what the vehicles were used for and the mileage logged on each one.

Webster has said repeatedly that poll-flooding had occurred as Democratic voters were hauled to the polls in “buses,” but a check of the VINs with the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles showed the campus vehicles used in 2008 and 2010 were 10- to 12-passenger vans and, in one case, a Ford Taurus.

In 2008, University of Maine System vehicles were used at only four of the system’s seven campuses: Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias and Gorham.

In the 2010 election, only one van, in Machias, was used to take student voters to the polls, according to information from vehicle record logs provided to Maine’s Majority after the political group filed a Freedom of Access Act request with the university system last month.

Maine’s Majority calls itself a nonpartisan campaign “by Mainers who believe that our elected leaders should represent all of our citizens.”

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 should therefore consider the wishes of all voters, not just the 38 percent who voted for him.

The group filed the formal request with the UMaine System after Webster said that in 2010 College Republicans had reserved vans at UMF but parked them so they couldn’t be used by other groups for get-out-the-vote efforts.

System-wide, the four university vehicles used to take students to the polls in 2008 logged 176 miles. The van used at UMaine-Machias in 2010 logged 22 miles.

Webster, who has been campaigning against a proposed citizen veto of a recently passed law that requires Maine voters to register at least two days before they vote, has said college campuses and college students are vulnerable to voter fraud.

In July, Webster presented a list of 206 University of Maine System students who pay out-of-state tuition to the Maine secretary of state and attorney general, asking them to investigate possible voter fraud.

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said Webster has been trying to create a narrative of busloads of illegal, out-of-state voters casting ballots in Maine elections. But that story has rapidly unraveled, Grant said.

“Charlie Webster simply cannot be taken seriously anymore,” Grant said. “Day by day, fact by fact, his sensational stories have been debunked by people looking into the facts. Now everyone in Maine can see the truth in what we have been saying all along: The only fraud in this sad episode is Charlie himself.”

“What began as buses of out-of-staters we now understand to be a Ford Taurus with a handful of unquestioningly legitimate voters,” Grant said. “This November, Maine people are going to flood the polls again and tell Charlie to stop meddling with our right to vote.”

To read more of the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.

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