I’ve been following voter suppression efforts by conservatives since 2005, and I’m shocked by how blatant this is:
The undersigned voting rights organizations are writing to express our deep concern about your recent actions targeting legally registered student voters in Maine for investigatory action and sending them threatening correspondence likely to deter them from exercising their voting rights. Such actions provide strong evidence that you are violating federal statutory protections against intimidation and coercion of individuals in the exercise of their right to vote, as well as constitutional protections of the right to vote.
As reported in a news article published on September 21, 2011 by the Bangor Daily News, “Secretary of State Finds No Student Voter Fraud but Still Pledges to Improve System,” and other news accounts, you launched an investigation into the voter registration of 206 University of Maine students based on no evidence other than the unsubstantiated and baseless accusation of a partisan individual. Indeed, in your own September 21, 2011 press release (attached), you note, “Initially, the Chairman of the Republican Party, Charles Webster presented me with a list of 206 students, all of who have out-of-state addresses on file with the University of Maine system – some of which he believed voted twice in the same election and committed ‘voter fraud.’” If the information and quotations attributed to you and your representatives are correct, you launched this investigation without any evidence or credible allegation that any individual voted illegally.
So. The Secretary of State receives 206 names from the state Republican Party chair, and goes after them. He finds nothing. No fraud. No illegality.
Next, he sends 191 of the students a letter, where he asks that they cancel their voter registration “if they are no longer claiming to be a Maine resident”. He includes a form so they may more easily do that:
What is more disconcerting, and even less defensible, are the subsequent actions you took, and are currently taking, against these students. As your September 21, 2011 statement notes, your investigation, found no violation of Maine law by any of the 206 students on the list provided to you. No student was found to have registered or voted illegally in the state of Maine and none “voted twice in the same election” or “committed ‘voter fraud’” as Mr. Webster had alleged. Despite this, your office decided to single out these individuals and threaten them with repercussions under your motor vehicle laws and encouraged them to cancel their voter registration to cure such violation.
First, while your letter notes that you were asked to investigate certain students with out-of-state home addresses, and that said investigation is “now closed,” you never confirm to the recipients that your investigation revealed no wrong-doing by them. In fact, documents provided in response to an FOAA request suggest that you ignored a comment from the Attorney General’s office noting that it “seems odd not to tell the student that we found no evidence that they violated the election laws.” On the contrary, a plain reading of the letter implies that the investigation may have revealed certain improprieties with regard to voter registration by the recipient. That, of course, is entirely untrue.
Second, you go on to imply that all new residents of Maine have an affirmative duty to obtain a driver’s license. Of course, this is simply incorrect, given that non-drivers, as many university students are, have no such duty. Even setting this aside, rather than providing potential Motor Vehicle violators with a license application to cure this alleged defect, you suggest they cancel their voting registration and enclose the requisite form. You state, “If you are currently using an out-of-state driver’s license or motor vehicle registration, I ask that you take appropriate action to comply with our motor vehicle laws within the next 30 days (i.e., by October 20, 2011). If, instead, you are no longer claiming to be a Maine resident, I ask that you complete the enclosed form to cancel your voter registration in Maine so that our central voter registration system can be updated.” By enclosing a form to cancel the voter’s registration you strongly suggest that this is the option the recipient should follow to prevent further scrutiny and harassment by Maine’s Secretary of State.
“No longer claiming“? WTF?
Why isn’t this national news? We heard about the New Black Panther Party for close to a year, almost daily. 206 people were targeted by a state official acting with a non-state actor. We know the state official was acting with the state GOP because he announced he was. 191 people were then sent a letter and asked to cancel their own voter registration. According to Wikipedia, the Maine Secretary of State is a former “top aide” to Olympia Snowe. Maybe she could intervene here?