June 22, 2018
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There’s no evidence of voter fraud in Maine, so let’s stop wasting time on it

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
University of Maine students and other Orono residents wait in line to register to vote on Nov. 8, 2016.

Updated:

A presidential commission to investigate voter fraud was so dysfunctional that President Donald Trump disbanded it last week after only two meetings and no credible findings of voter fraud.

Later in the week, Gov. Paul LePage took up the voter fraud mantle and accused college students of voting twice. He, of course, cited no actual evidence that this has actually happened. Despite the lack of documented evidence of voter fraud, LePage said he’d introduce legislation this year to require voters to show identification at the polls.

This is unnecessary and fixes no shortcoming in Maine’s election laws.

Crying “voter fraud” has become part of the Republican mantra in the last decade. Oddly, both LePage and Trump alleged voter fraud in elections that they won.

College students are a favorite target of Republicans on the voter fraud bandwagon.

In 2011, then-Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster alleged that more than 200 college students had committed voter fraud by casting ballots here but not establishing residency in Maine. Then-Secretary of State Charlie Summers, a Republican, did an investigation and found no voter fraud.

Before his investigation was complete, Summers sent letters to the students on Webster’s list threatening to fine them if they did not obtain a Maine driver’s license and register their cars in the state. If they did not do this, they should rescind their voter registration in Maine, Summers said in the letter. He did this despite the fact that there is no requirement that Maine voters have cars registered in the state or hold a Maine driver’s license. About 100 of the students withdrew their Maine voter registration. This is a clear case of voter suppression.

Maine allows out-of-state college students to vote in Maine if they spend most of their time in the state. They can list their dormitory, apartment or other housing as their residence for the purpose of voting. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has backed this standard.

In 2015, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, now a Republican candidate for governor, introduced legislation adding requirements for college students — but only college students — to register to vote, including that they register a vehicle in Maine or pay personal income taxes in the state. Voting rules that discriminate against students or any other specific group are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled in 1979. Lawmakers rejected the bill.

In September, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the head of Trump’s voter fraud commission, claimed that Democrats stole a U.S. Senate race and Electoral College votes in New Hampshire. Writing for the rabidly right-wing website Breitbart, Kobach said he had “proof” of voter fraud in New Hampshire: 6,540 people registered to vote and cast ballots in that state on Nov. 8, 2016. By Aug. 30, 2017, only 1,014 of those voters had been issued driver’s licenses in the Granite State and only about 200 had registered vehicles there. By Kobach’s calculation that left 5,526 people who voted illegally in New Hampshire in November.

Except — and this a big except — there are thousands of college students living in New Hampshire, many of them from out of state. It was completely legal for them to vote in New Hampshire while carrying a driver’s license from another state.

Now, LePage is making similar claims, even citing the discredited New Hampshire allegations, while adding another — that college students vote twice. “If they vote at college, they should not be allowed to vote by absentee ballot in their home state,” the governor said in his weekly radio address. He offered no evidence that any college students are voting out of state and then again by absentee ballot in Maine.

Here’s LePage’s solution: “If out-of-state students want to vote in their college town, they should meet the residency requirements, just as anyone else who chooses to live and work and vote in Maine must do.” That sounds an awful lot like special voter registration restrictions for college students, which the Supreme Court has said are unconstitutional.

And, again, this is all in the name of solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Maine has real problems it needs to fix. Lawmakers should stop wasting time on the phantom of voter fraud.

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