Can Mainers be shamed into voting?

In the past several days, a growing number of registered voters have received mailers or emails from an organization calling itself the Maine State Voter Program.

The notices include an official-looking seal, even though the Maine State Voter Program has no affiliation with state government.

The mailer opens with the question: “What if your friends, your neighbors and your community knew whether you voted?”

It goes on to say that the mailer is designed to publicize “who does and does not vote,” and then includes a chart listing roughly 10 names of selected friends and neighbors, along with their addresses and voting history for the past three even-year elections.

“Do your civic duty – Vote,” the mailer concludes.

The Maine Secretary of State’s Office said Monday it has received an increasing number of complaints about the mailer dating back to last week.

“This is an entirely private organization apparently working on campaigns in Maine,” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said in a written statement. “We have had no communication with them and do not know who or what they are advocating for or against.”

Dunlap said he has consulted with the Maine Attorney General’s Office, but so far has not uncovered anything illegal about the activity.

The Portland Press Herald also has received complaints from readers, including Republicans, Democrats and unenrolled voters, who found the mailers offensive. Among them was Ashley O’Brion of Raymond, who called the mailer “creepy.”

“I felt violated,” said O’Brion, 29. “I know everybody puts so much information out there but this is the first example I’ve seen where it’s used in such a negative way.”

O’Brion said she was troubled by how accurate some of the information was – such as the list of some of her friends and neighbors and their addresses – but also how inaccurate other information was.

“For me, it said I didn’t vote in 2008, but I did,” O’Brion said. “I just didn’t vote in Maine because I lived in Massachusetts at the time.”

Roberta Manter, who lives in Fayette, said she, too, was troubled by the mailer because it contained false information.

“It says my husband and I did not vote in 2008, but we most certainly did,” she said.

Others who contacted the Press Herald said the mailers also contained inaccurate or outdated information.

Manter looked through the list of names on her mailer and found a commonality: They are all Facebook friends.

It’s likely that at least some of the information contained in the mailers came from the state’s central voter database. That database is technically public, but it’s really only used by political parties for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which oversees state campaign finance laws, said his office has received two complaints, including one from a former Maine lawmaker.

Wayne said he doesn’t think he can investigate because the mailers were not produced by a registered political action committee or a party committee. Any campaign activity that encourages people to vote but does not reference a specific candidate or ballot question is exempt from campaign finance disclosure laws.

It’s not clear who is behind the Maine State Voter Program. The mailer says it’s a project of Be Counted Inc., which appears to be a national get-out-the-vote effort, but it also lists an Augusta post office box. The Secretary of State’s Office said Be Counted Inc. is not incorporated in Maine.

Wayne said he’s never seen this type of activity in Maine before, although he said other states have seen similar mailers, including in Kansas, North Carolina and Alaska.

A group called America Votes, a coalition of progressive groups that supports Democrats, has been sending out mailers encouraging people to vote, but those mailers are far less threatening.

Although the mailers are offensive to many, a study conducted in the late 1990s by two Yale University political scientists showed that the tactics work.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell