AUGUSTA, Maine — The chairman of the Maine Republican Party has taken aim once again at what he believes are problems with Maine’s voter registration system.
Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster on Friday said an examination of the statewide voter list revealed that 19 individuals who registered to vote on Election Day in November 2004 each listed a South Portland hotel as their residence.
“Mainers should be very concerned that 19 individuals, who all listed the same hotel address, were able to register to vote and cast a ballot all on a busy Election Day,” Webster said. “Our town clerks are already overworked on Election Day, how can we expect them to verify that these people are legitimate Maine residents and haven’t already voted elsewhere?”
“We need to ask ourselves if someone is qualified to be a Maine voter just because they can say, ‘I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.’”
On the surface, it does seem strange that so many November voters would list the Holiday Inn Express in South Portland as their residence.
But there appears to be an explanation.
It turns out, those 19 were all students of the St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine in Grand Cayman Island, which has a partnership with St. Joseph’s College in Standish.
Jason Bartlett, general manager of the South Portland hotel, confirmed Friday that his facility was nearly full of displaced students during that time period because of Hurricane Ivan. Evidently, the St. Matthew’s students transferred to St. Joseph to finish their coursework but the Maine college did not have adequate housing. That’s where the hotel comes in.
Charmaine Daniels of St. Joseph’s College on Friday confirmed the partnership between the two schools, but said it doesn’t exist anymore. She said she didn’t know if the specific students referenced by Webster were enrolled at the time, but the hotel was housing St. Matthew’s students at that time in 2004.
Webster made no reference to the partnership in his press release and admitted in a telephone interview on Friday that he didn’t make any attempts to check into the backgrounds of these individuals. Instead, he referenced their voter registration cards, which indicated they had previously registered in states like California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and others.
Already this summer, Webster has targeted out-of-state college students, who he believes should not be allowed to vote in Maine unless they establish residency. In July, he presented a list of 206 names to Secretary of State Charlie Summers and called for an investigation into possible voter fraud.
That investigation is ongoing, but the Bangor Daily News recently contacted several students whose names showed up on that list and asked about their voting habits. All indicated that they registered in Maine while living on a college campus, something that is permissible by law and a right that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Similarly, if these hotel residents in 2004 were students and the hotel was their permanent residence, they were legally allowed to vote in Maine.
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said Webster is not only ruining his own integrity with his baseless attacks on college students but is jeopardizing his entire party.
“Charlie Webster’s campaign to intimidate voters and mislead the general public has gone too far. First he was attacking college students, now he’s attacking victims of a natural disaster who had moved to Maine,” Grant said. “He’s damaging our entire political system through his fear mongering and lies. It’s embarrassing us as a state and as Mainers. Quite frankly, it’s time for his colleagues within the Republican Party to join us in standing up against it.”
The timing of Webster’s latest claim comes just one day after the Secretary of State’s Office validated enough signatures to force a statewide people’s veto of a Republican-backed law that bans same-day voter registration.
David Farmer, a spokesman for Protect Maine Votes, the coalition responsible for the people’s veto effort, said Webster is deliberately trying to confuse Mainers by linking same-day registration to voter fraud.