Secretary of State Charlie Summers shouldn’t get distracted by years-old allegations about illegal immigrants getting driver’s licenses in Maine. Instead, he would do better to focus on the very serious charges of voter fraud recently brought by Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster. These charges demand his immediate attention.

Last week, Mr. Webster held a press conference in which he held up a list of 206 students who attend public universities in Maine and pay out-of-state tuition. They voted in Maine in the 2010 election. This is evidence of voter fraud, Mr. Webster said.

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that college students can register to vote using a dormitory address. Although he dissented from the ruling, Justice William Rehnquist included in his opinion the text of a questionnaire that LeRoy Symm, the registrar of voters in Waller County, Texas, used. According to Justice Rehnquist’s writing, the registrar simply registered people he or his deputies knew. Those who owned property were also quickly registered.

College students, however, were asked a long list of questions including whether they owned property or belonged to a church in the county. What were their job plans? How long had they lived in Texas?

The Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that such a practice violated the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18.

Given the high court’s stance, Mr. Webster must have substantial evidence of wrongdoing to allege fraud. And that means Secretary of State Summers, for the sake of the students and all

Maine voters, must be aggressive in resolving this case. Instead, at least so far, he has confused the issue by adding another case of potential voter fraud concerning driver’s licences from years ago, an issue that a previous secretary of state says already has been addressed.

Confirming the charges made by Mr. Webster shouldn’t be difficult. The Secretary of State’s Office could call the states or towns the students are from and determine whether they voted there in November 2010, then compare the results to Maine’s voting lists.

If the students did not vote in their hometowns, Mr. Webster should apologize to the students — who were not publicly identified, but the list that was made public included initials, hometowns and birthdays, making the students identifiable to some — and to the public for the waste of tax dollars in the investigation.

It is no coincidence that allegations of students improperly voting and that an employee in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles was concerned that illegal immigrants were getting Maine driver’s licenses (and keeping copies of personal documents, which is inappropriate, if not illegal) — neither of which have anything to do with same-day voter registration — are surfacing now.

After Mr. Summers repeatedly had said voter fraud is not a problem in Maine, proponents of a new law that repealed same-day registration needed to bolster their case in the face of a people’s veto effort to repeal the law.

Allegations of fraud are serious business and should be thoroughly investigated. But state officials must keep in mind that existing laws trump personal and political motives.