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Secretary of State says noncitizens may have voted in Maine, urges election reform

Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers stops into the polls at the Bangor Civic Center Tuesday morning to visit election officials and voters before making his way to Scarborough.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers stops into the polls at the Bangor Civic Center Tuesday morning to visit election officials and voters before making his way to Scarborough. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 20, 2012, at 11:50 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 20, 2012, at 5:27 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s Secretary of State has levied new allegations of possible voter fraud and again called on lawmakers to address what he believes are deficiencies in the state’s election system.

In an annual report to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on the state’s Central Voter Registration system, Charlie Summers said his yearlong review of voter registration data was troubling.

He conceded that most of the problems are related to human errors by municipal officials rather than intentional fraud, but said those errors have contributed to inaccurate and unreliable state voter data.

The data “suggests that a substantial number of noncitizens (over 150) may have registered to vote, and approximately one-third of that number may have actually voted in elections over the past few years,” Summers wrote. “I have turned this information over to the Attorney General for further investigation and to pursue whatever action he deems appropriate.”

Lawmakers received the report this week but are not expected to discuss it until the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee meets next week.

Rep. Micheal Carey of Lewiston, the lead Democrat on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, said the secretary and the attorney general should aggressively investigate any allegations of improper voting.

“What the secretary referenced in the letter, though, was clerical errors,” Carey said. “It’s not clear what he’s asking for that he doesn’t have the authority to do already.”

Summers said he believes the registration system has value but needs an overhaul. He asked the committee to authorize him to undertake a thorough review and then report back to the 126th Legislature in January 2013 with election reform legislation.

“Maine is long overdue for a full review of our election system in order to identify statutory and regulatory changes that will ensure the accuracy and integrity of elections going forward and protect our fundamental right of voting,” Summers concluded in his report.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, agreed with Carey that the secretary already has the authority to address deficiencies.

“We don’t believe that his latest allegations point to the need for new laws,” she said Friday. “Certainly, these clerical errors don’t suggest that we need new barriers to voting.”

The issue of voter fraud has been Summers’ top priority since he took office about a year ago. During the 125th Legislature’s first session, election reform came up in the form of two controversial proposals — one to eliminate Election Day voter registration, the other to require voters to present identification at the polls.

The Legislature passed a law to eliminate same-day voter registration, but it was overturned by voters last November after a coalition gathered enough signatures to force a people’s veto.

“Voters spoke forcefully in November to say that Maine’s elections have worked well for decades,” Bellows said. “Despite allegations by [Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie] Webster and Summers of rampant fraud there still have been only two prosecuted cases in Maine’s history.”

The voter ID bill, which was passed by the House but rejected by the Senate last year, ultimately was carried over from last session. It will come before the Legislature next week where another partisan battle is likely. Summers has testified in favor of voter ID.

After the Legislature adjourned late last spring, the voter fraud debate continued to dominate headlines, thanks in large part to Maine GOP Chairman Webster.

In July, after the people’s veto effort was launched, Webster alleged that more than 200 college students had committed voter fraud and called for an investigation into his findings.

Summers did investigate and released his findings last September. Although he found no instances of voter fraud by students, Summers said then that his investigation did reveal problems with Maine’s election system.

He pointed to clerical errors last year and wrote in his recent report to the Legislature that his office continues to identify clerical errors in the registration system. He said the majority of those errors involve clerks accepting incomplete voter registration cards or accepting cards from people who are clearly not eligible to vote.

If those errors allowed anyone to vote illegally, Summers said that’s a big concern.

“Illegal voting strikes at the very foundation of our representative democracy and could affect the outcome of elections, which in a few instances in the recent past have been decided by a handful of vote,” he wrote.

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