Is This the Face of Voter Fraud?


August 10, 2017 by Jean


One afternoon in June, I went to my local Town Hall to vote in a special election. I should note that I am a frequent voter – one of those good citizen types who always show up, even for elections like this one that included only a yes or no vote on the local school budget and an obscure state bond item. But on this occasion, something happened that I hadn’t experienced before: When I gave my name to the poll worker, she hesitated a moment and then asked to see a government-issued photo ID. I was startled and asked if Maine had passed a law when I wasn’t looking requiring ID to vote. No, the worker explained, it wasn’t a general requirement; but there was a notation in the book next to my name that I shouldn’t be allowed to vote without showing ID. What!?!

Faced with my indignation, the volunteer poll worker decided she was in way above her pay grade and passed me off to one of the paid town voting administration workers for an explanation. That worker explained, as gently as she could, that I was being required to show ID because someone had challenged my right to vote. (At that point, I entertained the paranoid thought that maybe I should be less vocal about my disagreements with our conservative Governor.) Sometimes, she explained, this was a case of mistaken identity, because of a question about the voting rights of someone else with the same or a very similar name. (Then we both looked at my name and agreed that this was very unlikely in my case.) Another possibility was that my name had been flagged in some comparison of different voter lists.

Ah, this made more sense. Until I retired three years ago, my legal residence was Pennsylvania, where I held a job, maintained a home, and lived for more than half of each year. Shortly after I moved out of my rented home in Pennsylvania to live full time in Maine, I bought a new car and registered it in Maine and also switched my driver’s license from Pennsylvania to Maine. At the driver’s license bureau, it turned out that I could also take care of registering to vote in Maine. The voter registration form had a question about whether I had recently been registered to vote anywhere else, and I declared that I had been registered to vote in Adams County, Pennsylvania. I assumed that information would be passed along to Pennsylvania where my name would be removed from the voting rolls. I should have realized that didn’t happen as quickly and efficiently as I assumed when, almost a year later, I received a summons to report for jury duty in Adams County. I filled out the jury duty form with the information that I no longer resided in Adams County and now lived 600 miles away, sent it back, and forgot about it.

Conservatives who wish to make it more difficult to vote in the United States often use the numbers of people registered to vote in more than one place as statistical evidence of voter fraud. But, although I may have been listed on the voting rolls in two different places, I never voted in more than one place – Pennsylvania until June 2014 and Maine after that date. If indeed my name is on the voting lists in both states, that seems to me to be evidence not of voter fraud, but of administrative inefficiencies in maintaining the voting lists.

Fortunately for me, when my right to vote was challenged, I had my license with me and could produce it. (And it probably also helped that, since I am active in town government, the town worker who was called over to deal with my situation knows me.) But imagine that I was infirm, was no longer driving, or had simply gotten a ride to the polls with a neighbor and had not brought my license. I’m not sure I would have bothered to go all the way home to get my ID and come back to vote (a 10-mile round trip). I may well have just shrugged and decided this dinky little election wasn’t worth the bother. The United States already has lower rates of voting than most democracies in the world. Perhaps we should be worried more about increasing citizen engagement and participation and less about rooting out imagined cases of voter fraud.

Update – Aug. 17 2017

This week, when the Maine Public Radio program “Maine Calling” aired a segment on voter fraud with Maine’s Secretary of State as one of the guests, I decided to pursue this by sending an email to the program outlining my experience. This email was read on the air. In response, I received a personal phone call from Julie L. Flynn, the Deputy Secretary of State in charge of elections. Here is her explanation (from a follow-up email to me) of what happened:

It was a pleasure to speak to you today about your voter record and the Town of Poland’s request that you show ID at the voting place.  As I discovered when I looked up your voter record, the “Proof of Identity” and “Proof of Residency” fields in your voter record in CVR (the state’s Central Voter Registration database) were not completed.  It may be that the information was not recorded on your application when you registered at the BMV in 2014, or it may have been that the town did not enter the information into CVR even though it was listed on your application.  When this information is missing from a voter record, the printed Incoming Voter List will display a “Y” in the “Show ID” field.  It is likely that the “Y” has been on each voter list since you registered in 2014, but the Municipal Clerk did not know to look for that until recently.  Hence, your being asked to provide the information at the recent election.  As we discussed, I have entered your Maine Driver License information into your voter registration record as both proof of Identity and Residency, so your record will not display as needing to show ID in the future.  Thank you for your email to the Maine Calling program, and for the opportunity to let us take care of the issue for you.  And thank you for voting!

Not a conspiracy or punishment for disagreeing with the Governor, but a simple clerical error. (I believe I presented my tax bill as proof of residency when I changed my driver’s license to Maine and registered to vote.) The reason that the clerical error finally caught up with me this year is that the Secretary of State’s office as been doing training with local election clerks. I’m happy to have a logical (and benign) explanation for what happened.

11 thoughts on “Is This the Face of Voter Fraud?

  1. Brenda says:

    How disturbing. With our Governor blocking his facebook critics, your paranoid thoughts are, unfortunately, not so far-fetched. It’s depressing that we have reached a point where I could actually imagine targeting voters based directly on their political affiliations. Our current president has flouted so many ethical norms without consequence that the possibilities for voter suppression are chilling.

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, I was happy to learn that nothing nefarious was happening here (see my update) — just a three-year-old clerical error catching up with me. I was very impressed that a high-level state government official took the time to call me (well after her workday should have ended) to explain what had happened and to personally go into the system and resolve the issue. Our governor and president may be problematic, but their influence doesn’t extend very far into the ranks. Most government workers seem to be hard-working and dedicated civil servants with integrity.

  2. JeanR says:

    I agree with Brenda, your thoughts are not paranoid and right on target of what many Republicans are calling voter fraud and/or are targeting to give people a hard time at the polls. I’m so glad you vote often and will have all this ironed out before the primaries.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, One of the interesting aspects of this situation is that our Secretary of State, Matthew Dunlap, was one of the people appointed to the President’s Task Force on Elections, and he has also refused to turn over state voting data to that same commission. He accepted appointment to the Commission because he felt it was important to have the point of view that voter fraud is rare represented there.

  3. Ellie Leight says:

    It seems you’ve had a bit of a bad run in luck this summer. Things can only improve I think. I too am a bit paranoid about what the governor and the President still have in store for us. I somehow feel we haven’t seen Mr. Lepage’s final moves yet.

    • Jean says:

      Ellie, I am an eternal optimist and have been encouraged that neither the Governor nor the President can carry out their agenda unchecked — although the cowardice of our local state representative in refusing to vote to overrule Lepage’s vetoes frustrates me.

  4. nora744 says:

    I wonder why there seems to be a growing push to nullify democracy in this country. Voting is a right we all should have and we must exercise that right as frequently as possible.

    • Jean says:

      Nora, Because I have taught some women’s history and know just how hard so many women worked for almost a century to win me the right to vote, I make it a point to always exercise that right.

  5. joared says:

    Glad to hear you followed up on this voting issue to reveal it was a clerical error. Not hard to understand the apprehensive thoughts you might have had. Clearly efforts are deliberately being made by some to undermine our confidence not only in our elections, but our press, our national intelligence agencies, our very form of government to name just a few areas of focus.

    • Jean says:

      Joared, I think it was all the discussion of voter fraud and the attempts to make it more difficult for people to vote that made me dig in my heels and make a fuss when I was asked for ID. My experience with an exceptionally responsive state government official restored my faith.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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