My feature from the November issue is up on the homepage today. Republicans, after gaining control of many state legislatures in 2010, have undertaken a coordinated effort to suppress voting rights. Photo-identification laws have been the splashiest measures passed, but a slew of subtler changes pose just as large a threat. My piece covers the full national landscape, but I highlighted Maine, where Republicans used their first legislative majority in nearly four decades to rescind Election Day registration laws, a measure used by 60,000 voters in 2008. Voting-rights groups have fought back, and a referendum on same-day registration will be on the ballot next month.
Charlie Webster, the chair of the Maine Republican Party, has been warning about rampant voter fraud in his home state. When I spoke with him last month, Webster mentioned a specific allegation about individuals who registered their address as a hotel. "We found 19 in 2004 in the John Kerry-George Bush campaign who voted out of a Holiday Inn Express, which is a $90-$100 hotel room," he said. "They registered and voted Election Day in 2004, and not any of them have ever voted again. Not one."
Registering from a hotel room looks suspicious at first glance, but when the Bangor Dailey News checked with the Holiday Inn Express in question, there was a simple explanation:
It turns out, those 19 were all students of the St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine in Grand Cayman Island, which has a partnership with St. Joseph’s College in Standish.
Jason Bartlett, general manager of the South Portland hotel, confirmed Friday that his facility was nearly full of displaced students during that time period because of Hurricane Ivan. Evidently, the St. Matthew’s students transferred to St. Joseph to finish their coursework but the Maine college did not have adequate housing. That’s where the hotel comes in.
Maine had just two successful voter fraud prosecutions during the 38 years same-day registration was allowed. Webster's damage has been done though; the Republicans fighting to restrict access to the ballot only needed to raise the specter of fraud to push their legislation.
While there may be little proof to substantiate claims of fraud, there is mounting evidence that restrictions on voting pose a real threat to the 2012 election. Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice released a study quantifying the impacts of these new laws. According to their research, 5 million people could be prevented from participating in next fall's election as a result of these laws, including 3.2 million because of photo ID requirements alone. "The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency," the report says.