By Ernest A. Canning on 10/2/2011, 7:47pm PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

Perhaps the only positive thing one can say about GOP voter suppression is that it is relentless.

In 2008 the ME Legislature killed a Republican-backed bill designed to prohibit out-of-state college students from voting in the communities in which their schools were located. The state's Democratic Attorney General Steven Rowe said at the time, that the proposal was unconstitutional under the 1979 ruling in Symm vs. United States, establishing the right of college students to treat their dorms as their residence for voting purposes.

This year, on July 25th, the clueless ME GOP Chairman Charlie Webster asked Maine's Republican Sec. of State Charles E. Summers, Jr. to investigate 206 out-of-state college students whom he believed committed "voter fraud" because they registered and voted in the Pine Tree State.

Summers, after a two month investigation, was forced to admit that every one of the students was lawfully registered to vote in ME; that there was no evidence that any one of them committed voter fraud.

But why let a little thing like the absence of evidence of any crime get in the way of dissuading college students from exercising their right to vote? That's exactly what Summers decided to do...

As we noted in "Local Radio Hosts School Maine's Hapless GOP Chair on College Students' Right to Vote", registration of a car, payment of income and local taxes or the possession of a Maine driver's license are all evidence supporting residence status. None of those items, however, are a prerequisite to residency status. Residence is defined by Maine's Revised Statutes as "that place where the person has established a fixed and principal home to which the person, whenever temporarily absent, intends to return."

Summers acknowledged that out-of-state students are lawfully entitled to treat their dorms as their residence. It is not unlawful for a student, who is still registered to vote in another state, to register and vote while residing in a dorm in Maine. Voter fraud would occur only if the student were to vote both in Maine and in another state in the same election.

Yet, at the same time he was acknowledging that Webster's complaint against the 206 students was baseless, on Sept. 20 Summers mailed a threatening letter (posted in full below) which informed the students of the request that he "investigate" out-of-state students for "election fraud violations."

Summers reminded the students that residents must obtain a ME driver's license within 30 days of establishing residence in ME. He asked that students "take appropriate action to comply with our motor vehicle laws within the next 30 days."

Summers, who no doubt is aware that the penalty for driving without a valid license in ME is $137 --- as opposed to forfeiture of the right to vote --- nevertheless attempted to link the two, stating in his letter:

If, instead, you are no longer claiming to be a Maine resident, I ask that you complete the enclosed form to cancel your voter registration in Maine so that our central voter registration system can be updated.

Since possession of a ME driver's license and the right to vote are not linked, the only reasonable inference to be drawn is that the letter was intended to confuse at best, but more likely to intimidate students by suggesting that, if they failed to timely comply with the motor vehicle statute, they may be guilty of "election fraud" which he'd been asked to "investigate."

And the letter appears to have had its desired effect.

ThinkProgress reports that it interviewed several recipients of the letter who were intimidated, including one whose family was "pretty insistent" that she cancel her registration to vote in the Pine Tree State "to be on the safe side."

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to uncover why the GOP has targeted college students for voter suppression in many states across the country. 2008 marked the second-largest youth voter turnout in U.S. history. The increase was especially great in precincts where college campuses are located and where younger voters preferred Barrack Obama to John McCain by a two-to-one ratio.

Republicans across the nation have been working very hard over the past year to try and keep that same "mistake" from happening again in 2012.

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The September 20, 2011 letter from Maine's Sec. of State Charles Summer follows below (larger version here):

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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