Having trouble keeping track of the “two Charlies” lately?

Former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap offers a not-so-seasonal metaphor.

“One makes the snowballs,” Dunlap said this week, “and the other one throws them.”

We’re talking, of course, about Charlie Webster, the bombastic chairman of the Maine Republican Party who sees voter fraud hanging like a cloud over every college campus in Maine, and Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers, who last week launched two investigations into … well, that’s a little hazy at the moment.

Let’s recap:

During the last legislative session, both Charlies labored long and hard to push through a bill rescinding Maine’s 38-year-old practice of allowing voters to register on the day of an election.

Webster argued that the Democrats were using left-leaning college kids in buses to steal elections right under our noses – even though he had no hard evidence to support such an outrageous allegation.

Summers argued that same-day registration imposes an undue burden on Maine’s municipal clerks and election workers – even though the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association reported no such problem and actually supports letting people register just before they vote.

The bill passed anyway.

Enter Protect Maine Votes, a coalition of 18 organizations that is now working to collect the 57,277 signatures it needs to force a people’s veto referendum on the new legislation.

Meaning this thing is far from over. And the two Charlies know it.

No surprise, then, that we had Webster waltzing into the Secretary of State’s Office last week with a list of 206 names of out-of-state college students who, he claims, broke the law by registering in Maine on Election Day 2010. (Earth to Charlie: That’s not illegal.)

And in so doing, fumed Webster, these young ne’er do wells made a mockery of Maine’s electoral process. (Earth to Charlie: Your own Republican Party won the Blaine House and both chambers of the Legislature that day.)

Summers dutifully accepted Webster’s list and promised to investigate. Then the secretary of state created a diversion all his own, announcing a parallel investigation of a Bureau of Motor Vehicles employee’s claims that electoral funny business went on under “previous administrations” five years ago.

“(She) reported to me her experiences of accepting voter registration forms from customers she believed to be noncitizens,” Summers told the assembled media.

What’s more, he said, the woman’s “senior level management” superiors told her to “disregard such activity and destroy the documents she had compiled related to this subject.”

Dunlap, who thought when he handed the keys over to Summers last winter that their transition couldn’t have gone more smoothly, was “absolutely stunned” when he heard (from the media, no less) that he’s suddenly in his successor’s crosshairs.

Yes, Dunlap said, he knows what Summers was talking about – the same woman approached Dunlap as he was taking office back in 2005 to express her concerns about how easily noncitizens could get Maine driver’s licenses.

And yes, Dunlap said, hanging onto those folks’ paperwork was at least in violation of an executive order by then-Gov. John Baldacci that state officials steer clear of enforcing (or investigating) federal immigration issues.

But, stressed Dunlap, “elections were never mentioned. Never mentioned.”

So why mention elections now?

Many say this is all part of a nationwide, Republican-fueled effort to throw a monkey wrench into the Democrats’ well-oiled, get-out-the-vote efforts. Maine is but one of many GOP-controlled states where bills restricting voter rights appeared seemingly out of nowhere last spring.

Others (including Dunlap), point to Dunlap’s yet-to-be-declared Democratic candidacy for the U.S. Senate and see a more home-grown motive: rough up the opposition a little before he’s even out of the gate.

“Absent any evidence,” observed Dunlap, “there’s no other answer but that it’s political.”

Countered Summers, “There’s nothing further from the truth … Once you are in this office, you have a responsibility to all of the people of the state of Maine.”

Indeed. Including those Mainers who’ve grown sick and tired of the paranoia so prevalent in the GOP’s talking points these days. Mainers who worry, with good reason, where all this Republican fear-mongering is headed.

Webster, for one, has headed straight back to Crazytown. He’s now boasting that on Election Day 2010, the University of Maine at Farmington’s College Republicans reserved several university vans and parked them for the day at the local Walmart so they couldn’t be used by those dastardly Democrats to ferry young voters to the polls.

Funny how nobody seems to be investigating that one.

Summers, meanwhile, is deflecting any and all questions about his “investigation” into years-old allegations that had nothing to do with voter fraud because, as he put it so circularly Tuesday, “there’s an investigation going on.”

Well played, Charlies, well played.

Without so much as a spark of evidence, you’ve rolled out your dual smokescreens hoping to scare all of Maine into believing our time-honored voting system is on fire.

You’ve committed scarce tax dollars to an investigation when there’s no evidence whatsoever that any laws have been broken.

And you’ve told college students from away – the very people Maine hopes will stick around once they get those degrees – to keep their sneaky little hands off our ballots.

All in the name of safeguarding our democracy?

Sorry, Charlies. Those snowballs are melting as fast as you can chuck ’em.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]