2011-09-01 "GOP Official Tries to Suppress Student Voters—Despite No Evidence of Fraud" by Brian Stewart
Maine college students are under attack by the chairman of the state’s Republican Party who recently “brandished a list of more than 200 college students he said likely engaged in voter fraud.”
There’s no evidence that any of the 206 young people who voted in recent elections did anything wrong.
Republican Party chair Charlie Webster is attempting to challenge students’ right to register and vote where they attend school, indicating some had registered in their home state and then re-registered on campus, according to a report this week from the Bangor Daily News.
Earlier this week, Webster offered flawed reasoning for the move: "I get tired of talking about this because the law is clear. If I want to vote, I need to establish residency. I need to register my car and pay taxes in that community. You can’t just become a student and vote wherever you want."
But there’s a clear problem with Webster’s arguments—that’s not the law.
In fact, under Maine law, students are entitled to register to vote where the attend school, permitted they can establish citizenship, age, and residency—the latter of which can be with something as simple as a piece of mail or an oath.
And several precedents indicate Webster’s allegations are unfounded. A 1979 Supreme Court ruling said students can list their dormitory as a residence and, in 2008, former Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe said a proposed bill to bar on-campus students from registering there was unconstitutional.
Some—including Ben Grant, chair of the Democratic Party—say Webster’s list is an attempt to suppress young voters, who often vote Democratic. Grant says: "He doesn’t want students to vote in Maine. Everything else he’s said has been a smokescreen. The key issue is people voting in more than one place and that hasn’t happened."
Webster’s main issue, though, is students registering in more than one place—something that isn’t illegal and that an official told the Bangor Daily News is “actually fairly common and not just with college students.”
Some of the students Webster alleged committed fraud registered in two states, but have never cast more than one vote in an election.
Christopher Knoblock registered in his Massachusetts hometown when he turned 18 and voted there in February 2008 primary. As a student, he cast his general election vote on campus and again the following year on a same-sex marriage referendum.
Two years later in 2010, he was back home in Belmont, Mass., and voted there. He told the newspaper: "I’m surprised to be on this list and I’m surprised that it’s an issue that I voted in Maine at all. We were encouraged to vote when we were on campus, and we were told that voting on campus was legal. I think this unfairly targets out-of-state students, as it’s much harder for those of us who are out of state to vote via absentee."
Voters have no legal obligation to unregister in one place when they move and re-register in another.
And then there are students like Justin Lynch—also on Webster’s list—who never registered in more than one place. Lynch has only cast votes in Maine and never in his home state of New York. The third-year student called Webster’s tactic “a shocking example of government intimidating young people.”
The Bangor Daily Times asked Webster why he included young people like Lynch, who couldn’t have voted in more than one place if they’d only ever registered in one. He laughed and replied:
“I have no idea whether they obeyed the law,” Webster said. “So I can’t accuse them.”
Only he did accuse them. He explicitly said his cursory research was evidence of “deliberate voter fraud.”
And regarding Webster’s claim that students should "pay taxes in that community” if they want to vote?
Perhaps he is forgetting that many students do pay income taxes—for jobs on campus or in the community—and virtually every student pays sales tax on discretionary spending. At the University of Maine, where many of the students on Webster’s list are enrolled, students and campus visitors contribute upwards of $170 million annually to the local economy. [http://www.maine.edu/pdf/EconomicImpactofUMS.pdf]
Unfortunately, Webster’s list is one of several unjust efforts to disenfranchise or frighten young college students and other Americans from exercising their right to vote.