Politics

November 1, 2012

Feud puts Maine poll-watchers under microscope

Democrats fear Republicans will use the tactic to suppress voting, but Republicans say both parties will be observing.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine's Democratic and Republican parties have long dispatched volunteers to the polls to ensure that the other side doesn't pull any shenanigans on Election Day.

click image to enlarge

This appeal for poll volunteers was sent by email from the Maine Republican Party to supporters.

Related Documents

Maine Republican Party's get-out-the-vote chart
Attached is the get-out-the-vote chart that the Maine Republican Party has distributed to supporters and volunteers. The "challenger" is responsible for monitoring new voter registrations and "questioning eligibility."

VOTING INFORMATION

— U.S. Citizens age 18 and older and living in Maine can vote and register to vote on Election Day.

— A driver’s license, other photo identification and documentation that shows your residence (such as a utility bill) are recommended if you’re registering to vote on Election Day.

— You can still register and vote if you forget to bring identification. You’ll have to sign an affidavit swearing that you’re a Maine resident living in the community that you’re voting in.

— Still have questions? Call the ACLU at 774-5444 or the Maine Secretary of State at 624-7736

This year, with high stakes seen in the outcomes of state and federal races, the Maine Democratic Party is claiming that the Republican poll-watching effort is designed to intimidate voters and suppress the vote.

The charge stems from an email sent from the Maine Republican Party to supporters, detailing plans to send volunteers to selected polling places to observe and potentially challenge new voter registrations.

Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said the practice is "part and parcel" of Republicans' attempts "to stoke fears that illegal votes are being cast when they're not.

"It's a voter suppression tactic," said Grant, adding that Republicans "tipped their hand" last year when they tried to repeal Maine's same-day voter registration law based on concerns about voter fraud.

The claims of fraud never panned out, feeding a national narrative that the Republican Party's expressed concerns cloaked its intentions of gaining an electoral advantage.

Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster dismissed the claim, saying that poll watching -- and vote challenging -- are routine in every election.

"Both parties do this, it's not a big secret," Webster said. "Both sides will send people to districts where they think there is a concern or something could go wrong or inappropriate."

The parties take different approaches to poll watching. Republicans often station volunteers at voter check-in lines to monitor whether registered Republicans have voted. They have also deployed volunteers to watch, and potentially challenge, questionable new voter registrants.

Democrats dispatch volunteer lawyers to polling places, they say, only to ensure that challenged voters still vote. The party argues that the Republican challengers are there to intimidate new voters, such as college students, who would be inclined to vote for Democrats.

Such a standoff played out publicly in 2003. According to a report in The Maine Campus, Republican volunteers challenged 50 of 374 voters at a precinct near the University of Maine. The report said the challengers singled out college students, some of whom complained that they were unfairly targeted.

All of the challenged votes were counted. Election authorities found no evidence of voter impersonation or double voting.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said only two incidents of double voting have been confirmed in Maine in the last 40 years. She said voter impersonation hasn't been documented at all in that period.

Democrats argue that Republicans' challenges are meant to confuse or discourage some voters from participating in elections.

Webster, Maine's Republican chairman, said poll challenges are meant to ensure that the people who are voting should be.

He said challengers will be sent to precincts with competitive races. In particular, they will watch voting in towns with more than one legislative district, to make sure that no one votes in the wrong district.

"I know of two particular places -- I'm not going to say where they are -- that we want to make sure that we get people there to check because I don't trust these people," he said. "In one of them, I know for a fact that the neighboring district is not a contested race, so I feel quite confident that people will be moving in across the (district) border to vote in the contested race. I want to make sure that the people legally vote."

(Continued on page 2)

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