AUGUSTA – The Maine Heritage Policy Center says a study it conducted shows that Maine elections are susceptible to fraud.
Lance Dutson, the conservative think tank’s chief executive officer, said Wednesday that although strides have been made over the years to improve the system’s integrity, more should be done.
“We need to look at some way to check the citizenship of registered voters and we need to give municipal clerks the tools they need to efficiently ensure the integrity of our elections,” he said during a news conference at the State House.
But he said he doesn’t believe there has been widespread fraud in the state.
The Maine Heritage Policy Center is the only group that has filed paperwork to oppose an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would repeal a law passed in June to prohibit voter registration within two business days of an election.
Supporters of the law say late registrations make elections vulnerable to fraud because they leave clerks too little time to verify registrants’ information. Maine has allowed same-day voter registration since 1973.
“I personally don’t have a picture in my head of mass voter fraud occurring across the board in Maine,” Dutson said. “But again, I think most Mainers would be shocked about the lack of structural safeguards against something like that happening.”
The group based its conclusions on a review of various state records, some dating back to 1960.
It says its study revealed that in three of the last 10 general elections, the number of registered voters in the state exceeded the number of voting-age Mainers. All three of those elections happened before 2005, when the state implemented a Central Voter Registry.
Dutson said the Secretary of State’s Office has done extensive work in recent years to cut down on the problem. One reason for it could be that some people don’t ask to have their names removed from voting rolls when they move from one community to another.
Another cause for concern, Dutson said, is that the survey showed 178,000 of 972,000 voters had registered on Jan. 1, 1850. Dutson said that was a date used by the Secretary of State’s Office to indicate registrations that lacked data.
Other findings showed that nearly 1,500 people were listed as 211 years old, and about 2,400 people were listed with birth dates before 1900.
Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, while acknowledging that human errors occur in a system with “a big human component,” said many of the findings are the results of defaults in the system that were triggered by incomplete information.
She noted that the 1,452 voters who were listed as 211 years old, due to a default in the system, actually represents a decrease from about 5,000 as the registration system’s accuracy has improved.
She said the report does show that “it is important (for clerks) to take as much time as they need with every application.”
Dutson said same-day registration is “a convenience we should aspire to sustain,” but not without precautions — namely requiring photo identification at the polls. A bill to make that a requirement will be taken up by the Legislature in the session that starts in January.
David Farmer, spokesman for the Yes on 1/Protect Maine Votes campaign, which seeks to preserve same-day registration, dismissed the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s findings.
“It sounds like, again, they are backing away from the notion of same-day registration and they want to talk about voter lists and they want to talk about photo ID — but those issues are not on the ballot,” he said.
Dutson rebutted arguments by the Yes on 1 coalition that voters who are elderly, disabled or working multiple jobs would be disproportionately affected by the elimination of same-day registration.
He said people who may have difficulty getting to the polls can still register and vote on the same day — by absentee ballot. It just can’t be during the two business days before an election, or on Election Day.
Farmer said that’s not good enough, because some town offices are open only a couple of days a week or by appointment.
“It’s not easy, necessarily, to get to a clerk’s office,” he said. “But on Election Day, they’re all open and they all have to be open until 8 p.m.”
According to reports filed with the state ethics commission on Wednesday, the Maine Heritage Policy Center has spent about $4,500 in general treasury transfers opposing the people’s veto. The group did not list any donations raised specifically to oppose it.
A handful of groups supporting the people’s veto — from the Maine Democratic Party to the Washington, D.C.-based AFL-CIO to the Yes on 1 coalition — have raised about $308,000, according to reports. They have spent about $184,000.
Most of the money was spent to pay people to manage this summer’s signature-gathering campaign to put the question on the ballot, and for a poll.
The AFL-CIO spent about $11,000 of its general treasury money in support of the campaign, according to the report.
Major donors supporting Yes on 1 include S. Donald Sussman, the hedge fund manager and husband of Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, with his donation of $100,000; former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rosa Scarcelli, who donated $5,000; and state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, who donated $5,000.
These groups made cash donations of $5,000: American Civil Liberties Union of Maine; AARP of Washington, D.C.; the Maine People’s Alliance; the League of Women Voters of Maine; and the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund.
The Maine Education Association donated $20,000.
Most of the groups also made in-kind donations, largely paid staff time, totaling about $80,000 to the Yes on 1 effort, according to the reports.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: