Editorial: Outlawing unicorns in city limits

Posted Wednesday, September 28, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Outlawing unicorns in city limits

Prompted by accusations of widespread voter fraud by Maine Republican Party Chair Charlie Webster, the GOP-led Legislature swiftly moved to stop it ... by outlawing same-day voter registration.  This was promptly followed by a People's Veto signature campaign, a campaign which, we are happy to say, succeeded.  Question One will appear on the November ballot - but remember to register at your town hall before you go in to vote!

Secretary of State Charlie Summers, who is generally a thoughtful kind of guy, decided that Webster's quixotic claims somehow merited a full investigation, and this he dutifully undertook.  Perhaps he felt he had to do this, since he was Webster's Vice Chair before accepting the position of Secretary of State; we will never know for sure. When he had to release his findings a few months later, he also dutifully tried to spin them as Webster, and, no doubt, his administration wished, but the stark fact remained that he could determine that there was only one instance of proved voter fraud. 

That's right ... one.  ONE. One single instance of voter fraud, over the decades that Maine has had same-day voter registration.

A lot of taxpayer-funded time, both in the Legislature and in the Secretary's office, and a whole lot of taxpayer-funded money for the upcoming election, was and will be spent on Charlie Webster's spurious claim; and the people will ultimately make the decision about whether or not they hold voting rights more sacred than political expediency. 

Essentially, the Republicans outlawed unicorns in the city limits, and the Secretary conducted a meaningless study about their care and feeding.  And the people will ultimately decide that there are no unicorns at all.

All of this might have merited a smile, except that Maine needs more cash than it has.  And this has been a major waste of it. 

There are already many laws on the books about voter fraud.  When someone is caught actually engaging in voting in two places, or anything like that, he or she can go to jail.  Republicans know this. 

But they also know that those who participate in same-day registration are those who are most likely to vote Democratic.  Students, those in rental housing who may have moved since the last election, older folks in nursing homes and the homeless, are those most likely to register on the day of the election. 

Webster tried to claim that Democratic students had signed out a school van to take people to the polls on election day and then 'parked the van'.  Records proved that it was simply untrue.

But some people (Webster) just don't know when to shut up.  When the organizers of the People's Veto turned in their astonishing number of signatures, just a month or so into their campaign, Webster tried to grandstand them by sending a press release out, in all caps, reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy.  It read, in part:

"TODAY I WILL BE HAND DELIVERING THE NAMES OF 206 INDIVIDUALS THAT MAY HAVE COMMITTED VOTER FRAUD HERE IN MAINE."

Instead what he presented were the names of 206 students in the University of Maine System that were paying out-of-state tuition and had registered to vote in Maine, something that's entirely legal. Residency requirements for in-state tuition are very different than for voting. 

Students who live in Maine nine months of the year and consider the state their residence are permitted to vote here.  There is nothing fraudulent about it, as long as they don't also vote in their own state at the same time. 

(Soldiers and sailors can, too, if they want to.  Until recently, there were a lot more sailors stationed in Maine whose original homes were out of state than students.  Although perhaps Charlie Webster didn't think about them.)

In any case, the whole thing has been a tempest in a teapot.  Webster needs to go home and get over it, and never be heard slandering innocent college students again.  Summers needs to distance himself from this debacle, and regain some of his stature. 

And everyone needs to accept ... gracefully (are you listening, Charlie?) ... what the people decide.

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