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Portland Press Herald: Maine Voices Column by Secretary of State Charles E. Summers, Jr.
The current election system lacks safeguards to protect against voter fraud and clerical errors.
By CHARLES SUMMERS
AUGUSTA -- I was intrigued to read Bill Nemitz's column "Overheated or reheated? Fraud claims leave us cold" (Sept. 23) in The Portland Press Herald. What I found was misleading and inaccurate.
To clarify the record, I was asked to look into allegations of possible violations of Maine's election law in my capacity as secretary of state. Specifically, allegations that individuals who are not citizens of the United States (non-citizens) registered and possibly voted in Maine; and that out-of-state students may have voted illegally.
First, Mr. Nemitz's version of the findings into non-citizens being on Maine's voter lists was patently false. Information was brought to me alleging that non-citizens may have submitted voter registration cards through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
In order to check the citizenship of a registered voter, and not violate that individual's civil rights, "articulable suspicion" must first be established.
In this instance, my office used existing case files from investigations of individuals suspected of committing ID theft and/or attempting to acquire Maine driver's licenses/IDs through fraudulent means. The total number of individuals investigated was 428 (four one-hundredths of 1 percent of all voters in Maine). Unlike Mr. Nemitz's assertion that just 1 of the 972,000 active voters in Maine was found to be a non-citizen who voted, there are actually six confirmed non-citizens (out of a sample of 428 possible non-citizens) found to be registered to vote in Maine, one of which was proven to have voted.
With regard to the 77 students who have dual registrations, it is important to keep in mind that each voter who is registered in two places has the ability to vote twice in an election. Thankfully, most do not.
However, our current election system lacks the structure to prevent this. Moreover, in finding such a large number of dual registrants in such a small number of registrations reviewed, a perforation in our electoral integrity, which can easily be exploited, was exposed.
What is most troubling about Mr. Nemitz's lack of understanding is that he feels I should have simply dismissed these allegations -- calling my investigation "a waste of tax dollars."
To clarify, this research was conducted during regular business hours with existing resources. As the chief elections official in Maine, I have been charged with the duty of overseeing all state and federal elections and to ensure every Maine citizen's vote is protected. It is my duty to maintain the security -- the integrity -- of the process that allows every Mainer to exercise our most sacred of rights.
As secretary of state, I am also responsible for the administration and enforcement of Maine's motor vehicle laws. So when Mr. Nemitz states I "was compelled" to notify 191 students -- who all made a declarative statement that they are Maine residents -- they must also comply with motor vehicle laws, he is absolutely correct. Perhaps he would rather I treat this responsibility with the same casual approach he advocates for our election laws.
With regard to Maine's current election system being "overheated or reheated," the most startling discovery during the course of this look at Maine's voting system was this: Of the research conducted, I found a clerical error rate of 84 percent, 79 percent occurring on Election Day. This is simply unacceptable.
I don't know of any business that would say it's running smoothly with an 84 percent error rate. A comprehensive, thorough review of our election system is required based on this finding alone.
Finally, Mr. Nemitz's assertion that hundreds of Portland voters who were "purged" from the voter list in 2000 would be turned away under the current law requiring new voters to register to vote at least two business days before an election, is simply untrue.
Under Public Law 2011, Chapter 399, those voters who feel their names have been incorrectly omitted from the voter list are able to cast a provisional ballot that is counted once the clerk establishes the voter was indeed previously registered in that municipality -- a clerical error would not prevent anyone from casting a vote on Election Day.
I would encourage every Mainer to read my entire remarks and findings to decide for themselves. They are posted on the secretary of state's website at http://www.maine.gov/sos/.
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