May 26, 2018
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Spirit of help, not intimidation

By Charles Summers, Special to the BDN

I feel the need to clarify the record after reading Lindsay Tice’s article in the Tuesday edition of the Lewiston Sun Journal. The same article that was later picked up by the Bangor Daily News online.

Statements made in this article as to the reason and intention behind the letter sent to students in the University of Maine system at the conclusion of my investigation into allegations of possible voter fraud, were misleading and misconstrued.

To begin, it was portrayed that I somehow “intimidated” or tried to “manipulate” students into choosing between voting or changing their out-of-state driver’s licenses and vehicle registration over to the state of Maine — this is patently false.

Maine is only one of three states where the Secretary of State is in the unique position of overseeing elections and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. So, relaying information to students that by registering to vote they have declared residency in Maine and are now subject to motor vehicle laws was done in the spirit of helping them comply with the law.

If any of these students had decided that they are no longer residents of this state, I asked them to complete a form and mail it back to my office so that Maine’s Central Voter Registration system could be updated. I also provided a telephone number for students to call with any questions or concerns they may have.

It was never my intention to intimidate or manipulate students, only to make them aware of laws that affect them now that they are residents of Maine.

The article also quoted David Farmer, spokesman for Protect Maine Votes, who alleged that I have attempted “…to scare them” into not voting. In response to this, let me be clear — every American, student or otherwise, has a sacred right to vote and I encourage each and every citizen to do so.

In reference to his assertion that I have “singled out these students,” I emphasize what I have stated time and again: when allegations are brought to my attention as Secretary of State — whether it be violations of election or motor vehicle law — it is my duty to investigate these allegations and based on my findings, take appropriate steps to ensure compliance of these laws. This has been not only my duty, but that of all my predecessors.

Also, I think it is imperative to point out that the issue of residency for the purposes of voting and the link to complying with motor vehicle laws is not a new subject in Maine. Over three decades ago, Attorney General Richard Cohen in 1980 issued a written opinion based on this exact subject which says that once anyone registers to vote, they have declared Maine as their residence and must adhere to all pertinent laws.

In his opinion, Attorney General Cohen stated, “…we conclude that a person, such as a student, physically located in this state who registers to vote and by that act claims Maine as his or her fixed habitation, is thereby precluded from claiming nonresident status so as to continue his or her exemption from Maine’s registration and operator licensing laws. Thus it appears plain that anyone physically located in this state who registers to vote in a Maine municipality must register his or her motor vehicle in Maine and must obtain a Maine operator’s license.”

My request, therefore, that appropriate steps be taken by these individuals to satisfy Maine motor vehicle law is based on and is consistent with this opinion (which is still in effect and is shared by our current Attorney General William Schneider).

Finally, the letter which I sent to those students in the University of Maine system was informative, consistent with Maine law, and within my obligation to uphold that law.

Charles Summers is Maine’s Secretary of State.

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