AUGUSTA – Earlier this month, Charlie Webster, the chairman of the Maine Republican Party, made a very serious accusation against the Maine Democratic Party. Webster claimed that it had “stolen” elections by busing in people from out of state to take advantage of Maine’s Election Day registration laws.

“If you want to get really honest, this is about how the Democrats have managed to steal elections from Maine people,” Mr. Webster said in an interview with Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz. “Many of us believe that the Democrats intentionally steal elections.”

Quoted in Nemitz’s June 10 column, Mr. Webster continued, “Buses. They bring them in buses — Job Corps people — they move ’em around to wherever they have a tough seat and they want to win an election.”

Before any further discussion of the issue, I think it is critical that the people of Maine hear my response: This is unequivocally false.

In the past 30 years, there have been only two convictions of voter fraud in Maine. What’s more, when pressed, Mr. Webster could not provide evidence to support his accusation.

While it is easy to dismiss Mr. Webster’s bombast as another in a growing crowd of disproven conservative straw men (see: President Obama’s birth certificate), the reason for his statements cannot be ignored. The LePage Republicans passed a bill that eliminates Election Day registration in Maine, thus ending a 38-year tradition that has seen voter participation in Maine — across party lines — rise steadily ever since.

In fact (yes, Charlie, there are actual facts), in 2008, 49,666 people registered on Election Day, and in 2010, 18,354 people did the same.

Let’s also remember what we are talking about: voting. This is no garden-variety civic duty, like shoveling the sidewalk or recycling.

It’s the whole reason America exists at all. It’s the reason our ancestors spilled blood on foreign fields and marched in our own streets. Our history is marked, too, with the steady progress of expanding the franchise so difficultly won.

Thankfully, literacy tests and poll taxes exist only in the history books — but that does not mean that those in power won’t continue to push for a new generation of more carefully disguised barriers between the people of this country and the ballot box.

So, my central message is this: Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or unenrolled, it is not the government’s ballot box to give and take like some kind of reward.

That’s not how freedom works. It’s your ballot box, and your Election Day. In our civic religion, there is nothing more sacred.

The LePage Republicans may think that Election Day registrants are just lazy, or they may think that making it a little harder to vote is an acceptable response to Charlie Webster’s fact-free mythology.

The Maine Democratic Party thinks otherwise. We believe in policy that advances the great causes facing Maine. We believe in a vigorous public square, where the issues are raised and debated by citizens and legislators alike.

We believe in a responsive, respectful citizen’s government that works for the people it represents. And, we believe — and know all too well after 2010 — that the people get their day to pass judgment on our work.

The LePage Republicans have planted their flag on this and many other issues over the last few months.

Rolling back environmental regulations. Stifling job creation in the energy sector. Stopping infrastructure investment in its tracks. A tax increase on patients that goes to the coffers of big insurance companies. Child labor. Little beards. Billboards. Murals. “Kiss my butt.”

Is it any wonder that Charlie Webster and the LePage Republicans want to keep Maine people away from the ballot box?

– Special to the Press Herald