Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster is “on a mission to make Maine a better place.” The trouble is, the “better place” he envisions lies on the other side of what may be an insurmountable controversy.
Since famously brandishing a list of 206 alleged voter frauds—all college students—a few weeks ago, Webster has been branded the leader of a witch hunt. The chairman maintains that Maine law is very clear that residency must be established before voting. This is true, but Webster’s opponents on this issue are quick to point out that doing so is almost trivially easy, and certainly not beyond students’ ability. Webster insists on implementing several harsher residency requirements, such as paying income taxes.
He intends to prevent students attending schools away from their hometowns from voting in communities where their interests may run counter to the residents’. At the center of this issue is Maine’s Election Day registration law, which was repealed in June but may be on its way back from the grave. Webster contends that students—especially out-of-state students—who register and vote on their Maine campuses on a day-of basis may be committing fraud. Few such students think to notify their original place of registration of their new voting locale, and many are registered in two places at once. However, dual registration alone is not voter fraud, and Webster’s critics claim that Maine has virtually no issues with voter fraud, that voting machines are designed to protect against this issue, and that voter registries are routinely updated to account for changes of address.
To further frustrate Webster’s efforts, legal precedent does notseem to favor his position. The Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that a poll worker’s questions to would-be voter students, deemed to determine their residency status, were unconstitutional, and approved dormitory addresses for voter registration use.
Same-day registration, however, often denies district prior notice required to prevent fraud. Webster has seized on this issue, saying “When you have 500 students registering on the day of an election, there is no way to make sure that these students aren’t registered and voting somewhere else.” And whether or not those students actually are, Webster has succeeded in making this a hot-button political issue.
College students, who typically vote liberal, are being portrayed as invaders that compromise small town working class families’ local interests with their fraudulent votes, only to relocate after their undergrad years. While some bemoan the political twist on the issue of student voting rights, for Webster students are only a small part of a large problem that has existed for years.