Correction: A portion of this column, asserting that same-day voter registration in Maine would prevent voters whose names were inadvertently dropped from the voting rolls from casting a ballot on Election Day, has been removed. Under the repeal legislation, those voters would be permitted to complete provisional ballots.


 In a perfect world, Secretary of State Charlie Summers’ press conference on Wednesday would have produced one of two story lines.

The first: Summers stuns the state with clear evidence of widespread fraud by voters who illegally registered and cast ballots in Maine on past Election Days.

The second: Summers, conceding that his two-month search for same-day registration fraud has come up dry, apologizes to Maine citizens for wasting their tax dollars on a wild goose chase.

But this, as we’re all painfully aware, is not a perfect world. So here we are once again, stuck with story line three:

Summers, unable to back up the Maine Republican Party’s claims that same-day voter registration has suddenly become a threat to our democracy, sets off a smoke bomb and screams, “Fire!”

Or, as the secretary himself put it, “Essentially we’re at the point where the system is very overheated.”

Oh really?

Let’s go to the numbers.

Back in July, GOP state Chairman Charlie Webster showed up at Summers’ office with what Webster called the “tip of the iceberg”: a list of 206 students with out-of-state addresses on file with the University of Maine System who registered to vote in Maine on Election Day last November.

Fumed Webster at the time, “I believe the end result could be legal action — now that the fraud has been detected.”

Or not.

Summers said his investigation showed that of those 206 names, two were duplicates and 77 were registered to vote only in Maine — leaving 127 to be “fully investigated.”

“Upon further research by my office, our information indicated that five students voted in both Maine and another state in the same year,” Summers said. “However, they did not vote in both places for the same election.”

Meaning?

“Technically, it’s not a violation of the law,” Summers later conceded. But, he quickly added, “I’m not sure exactly how patriotic it is.”

Come again? A young voter goes two-for-two in showing up for elections in the same year and Maine’s secretary of state is questioning his or her patriotism?

Summers went on to suggest that because 191 of the students had yet to obtain a Maine driver’s license within 30 days of registering to vote (he checked), he was compelled to send a letter to each and every one of them asking that they “take all appropriate actions to comply with Maine statute.” Not Maine’s election statute, mind you, but its driver’s-license statute.

Bottom line: Of the 200-plus students identified by one Charlie (who was noticeably absent from this week’s announcement) and investigated by the other Charlie, not one was found to have committed voter fraud. Not one.

We move now to the second prong of Summers’ probe: concerns that noncitizens who show up at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to get a license might also be illegally registering to vote.

Summers said he brought in the federal Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help out on this one.

To make a very long story short, he found six names of confirmed noncitizens entered on Maine’s Central Voter Registration System — including two who checked “noncitizen” on the voter-registration cards they were given at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles but ended up on the state’s registry anyway. (Hiding in plain sight — these guys are cagier than we thought!)

Of the six noncitizens, Summers said, one was found to have actually registered and voted, in Portland on Election Day 2002. That person, a citizen of El Salvador, left the country in 2007.

One. Among 972,000 registered Maine voters. In nine years.

And we have a system that is “very overheated” with potential for voter fraud?

How about “reheated rhetoric” seasoned with a healthy dose of partisan paranoia?

But enough about the Two Charlies, who undoubtedly will continue their demagoguery until Maine voters weigh in on same-day voter registration come Nov. 8. (Summers spent Thursday doing three radio interviews and preaching “potential” voter fraud to the choir at the Maine Heritage Policy Center.)

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