Yesterday Maine Secretary of State Charles Summers, Jr. reaffirmed a basic principle of Maine and federal law: Maine students are eligible to vote in Maine, regardless of whether they pay in-state or out-of-state tuition. In July, Maine Republican Party Chairman Charles Webster accused 206 students who paid “out-of-state” tuition at Maine universities of voter fraud because they voted in Maine. Secretary Summers then announced an investigation into these claims, the results of which he announced today. The result? There was, unsurprisingly, no evidence that any of the 206 students committed voter fraud.
As the Brennan Center noted in a letter to Secretary Summers, under both Maine and federal law the standards for tuition status and voting residency are quite different. Students who meet the legal requirements for residency and choose to register may vote as Maine residents, regardless of their public university tuition status. In fact, if the requirements for in-state tuition were applied to voter residency in Maine, they would be plainly unconstitutional. So the mere fact that some Maine student voters paid out-of-state tuition should never have led to a criminal investigation.
Careless public accusations of voter fraud – especially on such thin evidence – are a serious problem. Misinformed accusations carry the real risk of discouraging eligible voters from registering to vote and casting a ballot. Public officials and political parties alike should share an interest in ensuring that all citizens have accurate information about their voting rights – regardless of the party they intend to cast a vote for.
The results of the investigation released today reaffirm a point we at the Brennan Center have repeatedly made: out-of-state tuition status is not a bar to registering or voting in Maine.