Tempers flared in the state Senate on Friday after the chairman of the Maine Republican Party suggested Democrats “steal elections” by taking advantage of Maine’s policy allowing voters to register at the polls on Election Day.
A proposal to end Maine’s 38-year-old policy of same-day voter registration was already one of the most contentious of the legislative session. Lawmakers have spent hours debating whether the bill would improve the integrity of Maine’s election system — as Republicans insist — or disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters — as Democrats suggest.
On Friday, the partisan tensions boiled over in the Senate thanks to comments from Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster.
“If you want to get really honest, this is about how the Democrats have managed to steal elections from Maine people,” Webster told a columnist for the Portland Press Herald in a piece published Friday. “Many of us believe that the Democrats intentionally steal elections.” Webster also accused Democrats of busing people to the polls to register.
Senate Democrats seemed to be running out of adjectives as they called Webster’s insinuations everything from absurd to “pure poppycock.” Most of all, Democrats insisted, Webster revealed the true intent of the bill: a national Republican agenda aimed at making electoral gains at democracy’s expense.
“Well, Charlie Webster, good for you,” said Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland. “Good for you for passing a bill that has no merit … There is nothing you can hide behind that makes this bill worth passing.”
“These allegations are unfounded and if that is the motivation behind this legislation, I don’t see how anyone could support it,” said Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Cumberland.
Republicans largely steered clear of responding to Webster’s comments, although Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, did say: “The chairman of the Republican Party does not speak for the members who vote here.”