In his dogged pursuit of evidence that college students have voted both in Maine and their home states, Republican Party chairman Charlie Webster seems to have traveled to the end of the bus line.
His charges brought scrutiny to University of Maine System campuses and suggested partisan abuses, but he seems to have painted the situation with a broad and inaccurate brush. Short of removing all special interest clubs from the state university system, politics is likely to remain part of the college experience. And with politics comes the gamesmanship that Mr. Webster described and apparently also endorsed.
During recent elections, Mr. Webster alleged, college Democrats used school buses to transport students to the polls. Those students, he suggested, were out-of-state residents and should not have been voting in Maine, so the buses were, in his view, part of a scheme to commit voter fraud.
“I believe it’s totally inappropriate to use any taxpayer money for politics,” Webster said.
But it gets more complicated.
Mr. Webster said that last year, college Republicans at the University of Maine at Farmington, in a preemptive move to block the college Democrats from carrying their supporters to the polls, reserved the buses and left them parked.
“Guess what happened in 2010?,” he said. “The buses didn’t run on Election Day because we had the college Republicans reserve them early and on Election Day we took them over and parked them in the Walmart parking lot. We just reserved them early enough, before they” — meaning the Democrats — “got to them.”
So from sounding the alarm about fraudulent electioneering Mr. Webster then segues into boasting about using state college property to thwart the Democratic Party’s get-out-the-vote effort.
Now, it turns out that, in fact, both Democratic and Republican college clubs reserved the vans — not big enough to be called buses — and then canceled the reservations in time for any other group to use them. No misuse of taxes, no fraud.
College campuses are often perceived by conservatives as bastions of liberal thinking. Colleges expose students to a broad spectrum of ideas so they can try some of them on for size, which they can do with minimal risk at this time in their lives.
Young men and women get to join clubs devoted to all sorts of things — poetry, environmental activism, feminism, Christianity, yoga and conservative politics. And yes, tax dollars in some way sustain these explorations.
The best way to manage Election Day vans, buses and cars on campus might be for both party clubs to join forces to get out the vote. That lesson in bipartisanship could pay off in 20 years when some of these young men and women go to work in Washington D.C.