Secretary of state office has voter registration card shortage; Dems blame Charlie Summers

Posted June 25, 2012, at 6:13 p.m.
Charles Summers
Charles Summers

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine secretary of state’s office is running low on a type of voter registration card used by candidates, political parties and civic organizations to conduct voter registration drives.

The secretary of state’s elections division says the registration card shortage is the result of unfortunate timing, but the Maine Democratic Party says the lack of cards during a campaign season raises “red flags” about Secretary of State and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Summers.

The shortage came to light last week when Colleen Lachowicz, a Democratic state Senate candidate from Waterville, requested 250 registration cards from the secretary of state’s office and was told she could only have 50 since the office was running low.

Lachowicz said she planned to have the cards on hand for North End Night, a neighborhood festival last Wednesday in Waterville.

“I thought I would run into a lot of people who would want to register to vote,” she said.

The secretary of state’s policy for distributing voter registration cards allows legislative candidates to request up to 1,000 registration cards a week, with a 5,000-card limit for the election cycle. Statewide candidates and political parties can request up to 2,000 cards per week, with a 10,000-card limit for the election cycle.

“They’re breaking their own policy,” said Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who runs the secretary of state’s elections bureau, said the bureau started running low on registration cards in advance of the June 12 primary. But before a new batch could be ordered from the printer, staff members needed to clarify instructions that deal with a voter’s previous registration address. On top of that, according to Flynn, bureau staff have been busy administering elections and tabulating results.

“This is something we do every time,” Flynn said. “It’s just the timing is running short. We’re not going to make changes and reprint until we get low on our supply.”

And it’s rare for the secretary of state’s office to run low on registration cards this early in an election season, Flynn said.

“It caught us a little unaware that folks would want to be going out this soon before the November election doing these drives,” she said.

Flynn said the elections division will deliver the new registration card file to the printer on Friday, and the office should have a new supply of 100,000 cards in time for the second week of July.

On Friday, she said, the secretary of state also will post a file of the updated registration card on its website for candidates and organizations to download and print. Cities and towns also may accept a federal voter registration form from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Regardless of the level of demand, Reinholt, of the Maine Democratic Party, said the secretary of state’s office should always be prepared to fulfill requests for voter registration cards.

“Whether there’s demand or not, it shouldn’t really matter if we’re following the protocol that they’ve set forth,” she said.

And while Summers has handed over management of elections to Flynn in an attempt to avoid a conflict of interest as he runs for the Senate, Reinholt said Summers is ultimately responsible for the card flap.

“Is it yet again another example of him making it harder to vote?” Reinholt said, referring to Summers’ support for ending same-day voter registration and his investigation last year into voter fraud by Maine college students and noncitizens.

The director for Summers’ Senate campaign referred all questions on the voter registration card shortage to the secretary of state’s office. Flynn denied that the registration card shortage had anything to do with Summers or a policy shift at the secretary of state’s office, calling the timing for printing registration cards “purely an administrative function.”

“It’s nothing more than a timing issue and wanting to make an improvement before we go out and print 100,000 cards,” she said.

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