November 15, 2012

Maine Republican chairman questions black voters

Charlie Webster's claim that hundreds of unknown black people voted in rural Maine towns causes a stir, and leads one GOP strategist to call for his immediate resignation.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster is once again alleging possible voting irregularities, this time claiming that groups of unknown black people showed up in some rural towns to vote on Election Day.

Webster made the claim in a wide-ranging, post-election interview this week with Don Carrigan of WCSH-TV.

"In some parts of rural Maine, there were dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on Election Day," he said. "Everybody has a right to vote, but nobody in (these) towns knows anyone who's black. How did that happen? I don't know. We're going to find out."

When Carrigan pressed Webster on where it happened, Webster provided no specifics or proof of his claims, but said the party would investigate further.

When asked about the issue in an interview Wednesday with the Portland Press Herald, Webster again refused to provide specifics.

He said his point is not that the new voters were black, but that they were not recognized by town officials.

"I'm not talking about 15 or 20. I'm talking hundreds," he said Wednesday. "I'm not politically correct and maybe I shouldn't have said these voters were black, but anyone who suggests I have a bias toward any race or group, frankly, that's sleazy."

Webster's comments come at a sensitive moment for Republicans, including many who say the election losses last week show that the party needs to reach out to minority voters.

Lance Dutson, a Republican strategist and former campaign manager for Senate candidate Charlie Summers, posted a statement on his Twitter account Thursday saying Webster should step down now rather than wait until his term ends next month.

"Webster's statements should be cause for immediate resignation. Any GOP who values future of the party should demand the same," he says in the Tweet.

Webster said he has identified five "pockets" of the state where he has concerns about voting irregularities. He would not identify those areas, but said he plans to mail "Thank You" cards to all of the newly registered voters. If a large number of cards are returned because the addresses are invalid, Webster said, he will know he is on to something.

Megan Sanborn, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Charlie Summers, said Summers was shocked when he watched the video of the interview on WCSH.

"Our office has not heard any complaints about Election Day," Sanborn said. "Secretary Summers jealously guards the right of everyone to vote and feels that they should."

Hallowell Town Clerk Deanna Mosher Hallett, outgoing president of the Maine Town and City Clerks' Association, said she hasn't heard about any Election Day problems from clerks around the state.

"If there is enough chatter out there, I'd hear about it," she said. "Everything went smoothly."

There were reports on Nov. 6 that Somali immigrants in Auburn were challenged at the polls by a Republican poll watcher, who later backed off that challenge.

Maine historically has been among the whitest states. In the 2010 census, only Vermont had a smaller percentage of minorities, but Maine showed a subtle demographic shift, particularly in certain areas. The 2010 census showed Maine's black population at 15,707, just 1.2 percent of the total.

Democrats criticized Webster for making new allegations without providing any proof or details, although they said they don't consider his comments racist.

Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said he agrees with Webster on one thing: There were new voters on Election Day.

"But I see that as a good thing," Patrick said. "I'm not looking at these people with skepticism. But poor Charlie, this has been his mantra. I don't know why he wastes so much energy on it."

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said he wasn't surprised to hear Webster's comments.

"The only troubling thing is that Webster still believes in this garbage and that people still believe him," Grant said. "The issue of voter fraud has been thoroughly vetted. His party suffers this huge loss and his response is not to reflect or go quietly, but to continue with fear-mongering and blame."

Grant said his party received calls on Election Day about voting issues, but nothing that wasn't addressed by a quick call to the Secretary of State's Office.

Webster, a former lawmaker from Farmington who has said he will step down as party chairman when his term ends in December, has made similar claims in the past.

He has long complained that Maine elections are too loose and open to voter fraud.

Last year, he targeted college students when he alleged that more than 200 had voted in recent elections without establishing residency in the places where they voted.

The Secretary of State's Office reviewed Webster's allegations and found no instances of fraud.

Webster, however, remains unconvinced.

"I just think that the system, without some kind of ID or some kind of way to check, is fraught for abuse," he said Wednesday.

In the last legislative session, lawmakers considered, and rejected, a bill to require voters to show photo identification.

With Democrats now in the majority, it's unlikely that Maine voting laws will change in the next two years.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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