AUGUSTA – Secretary of State Charlie Summers is pursuing an investigation into potential voter fraud, after allegations made this week by the state Republican Party chairman and earlier this month by a worker in his department.

At a news conference Thursday in Augusta, Summers said an employee at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles approached him on July 1 and told him that she had seen people whom she suspected were non-citizens registering to vote. She also said that she had been told by senior officials within the Secretary of State’s Office to destroy evidence she had gathered supporting her suspicions.

The alleged incidents occurred under “previous administrations,” according to Summers, but he would not specify when. He said the alleged incidents had occurred at least five years earlier.

“(She) reported to me her experiences of accepting voter registration forms from customers she believed to be non-citizens,” Summers said. “When she voiced her concerns under previous administrations and provided documentation in support of her conclusions, senior-level management … instructed her to disregard such activity and destroy the documents she had compiled related to this subject.”

Summers declined to offer further details about the allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

Former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate, denied any impropriety while he held the office from 2005 to 2010.

“I had no dealings whatsoever with any allegations that someone tried to improperly register to vote who was not a qualified citizen,” he said in an interview. “Until they actually put some names and dates on this, it’s just a political firestorm is all it is.”

Maine had been criticized for having lax regulations governing who could be issued a driver’s license, and federal officials successfully prosecuted cases of illegal immigrants being issued Maine licenses during Dunlap’s tenure.

But Dunlap said he worked for several years to tighten the system, including “no longer accepting expired foreign documents, (and) requiring the collection of a Social Security number.”

He also said he encouraged a pro-active document-destroying process after a detective from the department approached him early in his term with concerns about the vulnerability of sensitive information.

“(He) said, ‘Look, I’m really concerned that people are filling out forms, making mistakes and throwing them in the trash and then it’s left out in the open,’” Dunlap said. “So we began shredding. But we never would have ordered the shredding of a document that could have supported the prosecution of a criminal act.”

Dunlap also said Summers was “treading on very dangerous ground” by appearing to politicize his position as secretary of state.

“Everybody knew I had a ‘D’ on my sleeve and everybody knows he has an ‘R’ on his. It’s how you act, it’s how you behave,” he said. “The fact that I knew the Republicans were watching me like a hungry hawk hovering over a fat mouse added to, I believe, the integrity of my work.”

State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a former secretary of state who launched the so-called motor-voter initiative in the 1990s, said allegations of document destruction are extremely serious and should be rigorously investigated.

“I hope they are going to be more specific, because otherwise they are incriminating a lot of people,” Diamond said in an interview after the news conference.

Summers, who served as vice chairman of the Maine GOP until December, said he is also following up on claims of voter fraud made by Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party. Webster claimed that at least 206 out-of-state students may have illegally voted in Maine in the 2010 election.

Webster said his research was prompted by a recently launched petition effort to force a statewide repeal vote on a new law that eliminated Election Day voter registration in Maine.

The people’s veto campaign has until Aug. 8 to collect enough voter signatures to force a referendum in November on whether to reinstate same-day registration. The law targeted by the repeal effort says voters must register to vote at least two business days before an election.

Summers, who supported the law that the veto campaign is trying to repeal, said eliminating same-day registration isn’t for the purpose of preventing fraud, but to provide administrative relief to clerks. He said he is rolling the investigation of the two allegations together and is working with both the state Attorney General’s Office and federal law enforcement.

“Maine people are good, law-abiding citizens; of this I have no doubt. But to think that we are immune to fraud, including voter fraud, is naive at best,” Summers said.

David Farmer, spokesman for the people’s veto coalition, said that even though Summers denied that the news conference was related to the petition effort, his actions spoke differently.

“With his words, he said it wasn’t related to same-day registration, which is true, but with his actions of having a press conference where he could release no information, it was about confusing the issue of voter fraud with same-day registration,” he said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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