Despite being labeled a witch-hunt by some and provoking claims that students’ voting rights are under attack, more than 200 college students are being investigated by the Maine Department of the Secretary of State following allegations of voter fraud. The active investigation, which involves the Office of the Maine Attorney General, stems from allegations made in July by Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, that 206 out-of-state students violated Maine election laws and committed “deliberate voter fraud” by registering to vote in two places.
Over the summer, Webster requested the names of out-of-state students at the University of Maine, the University of Maine at Farmington, the University of Maine at Machias and the University of Southern Maine’s campus in Gorham. He then compiled a list that was released publicly with the first initial, hometown and birth date of those he claims were registered to vote both in their hometowns and in the towns that house their schools. Webster contends that this is a clear violation of Maine election law.
The Maine Campus identified seven of the 206 students on the list who attend UMaine. Two were willing to discuss the issue at length. The others feared they would be further implicated in the controversy.
Webster said out-of-state students do not understand that, for most, registering to vote requires establishing residency, which he claims entails registering a vehicle, obtaining a state-issued identification card and paying taxes in the community where they will vote.
“The only exemption to the law is students. They’re not required to do any of this, and it’s unfortunate because this isn’t how our election system is supposed to work,” Webster said. “Nobody is saying these kids don’t have a right to vote. The problem is, most of them won’t stay here, but they disenfranchise the rights of working class people who live in these towns.”
“Every vote counts, and out-of-state college students should be required to vote absentee, which is the way it’s supposed to work,” he said.
In July, the list was sent to the Department of the Secretary of State, which oversees the Bureau of Elections, with a request from Webster that a preliminary review be conducted.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Caitlin Chamberlain, a spokeswoman with the Department of the Secretary of State, said she expects more details to emerge in the coming months.
Webster said the issue in question is not so much voter fraud as it is enforcing stricter election laws to protect the system from “scamming” and overcrowded polls in larger cities across the state, which he believes deter many from voting.