Voters and state election officials are questioning the ethics of a shadowy group’s attempt to shame Mainers into voting by threatening to publicize whether they showed up at the polls.
Letters sent by a group called “Be Counted, Inc.” under the name “Maine State Voter Project,” claim to reveal whether the receiver and their neighbors voted during the past three elections.
“We’re sending this mailing to you, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues at work and your community members to publicize who does and does not vote,” the letter states. “… After the Nov. 4 election, your friends, your neighbors and other people you know will be able to find out who voted and who did not vote. DO YOUR CIVIC DUTY — VOTE!”
Recipients from Gardiner and Pembroke contacted the Bangor Daily News over the weekend, saying they felt the letters were intimidating.
“Letters to family members at my address lists members of my family and six other town residents and their voting participation for 2008, 2010 and 2012,” wrote Kevin Stanhope of Pembroke. “It contains errors. For example, it does not take into account whether a person is not old enough to vote or incapacitated and unable to vote (what if you were in a car accident and in a coma during the 2010 election, you were not able to vote). There are plenty of reasons why someone did not vote and this effort is misguided.”
A reader from Gardiner, who also received the letter, said the voter history attached to her name was inaccurate.
The group sent the letters under the name of “Maine State Voter Program,” and included a crest and format that seem to ape official state documents, possibly in an attempt to deceive the recipient into thinking the letter comes from an actual state agency.
Neither “Maine State Voter Program” or “Be Counted Inc.” are registered with the state as a political action committee, and are likely not required to because they don’t seem to be advocating for any particular candidate or cause. An Internet search for both companies revealed little, except for reports from Kansas media outlets who say voters in the state have also received emails similar to these letters, and also felt intimidated.
The state’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions had also received complaints in the past week, and are looking into the issue, said spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski. She said that the group is sending the same letter to some voters via email.
Muszynski said some of the information from the state’s central voter database — such as names, address and voting history — are publicly available for get-out-the-vote efforts. That info is often used by political parties, she said.
“That information is all public,” she said. “It’s OK, technically, what they’re doing, but we’re seeing it as an ethical question. They seem to be shaming people into voting.”
Muszynski said it didn’t appear as if the letters had been sent exclusively to the members of any particular party, but to all kinds of voters throughout the state. She also noted that email addresses are not part of the publicly available information in the central voter database, so Be Counted Inc. is getting that information elsewhere.
I’m chasing political candidates all day today, so don’t have a lot of time to look into this group. But if any of you have received the letters, or know anything about Be Counted Inc. or the Maine State Voter Program, feel free to get in touch.
7 stories you need to read
- The biggest story in Maine politics last week came when independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, recognizing that victory was increasingly unlikely, gave his blessing for his supporters to vote for someone else on Election Day. His most high-profile supporter, Maine’s independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, threw his support behind Democrat Mike Michaud almost immediately.
- We’re less than 24 hours from Election Day, and Maine voters can agree on one thing: They want this campaign to be over. Our own Chris Cousins hit the streets Friday to talk with Maine people about their thoughts on the election, the campaign and the candidates. Make sure you read his story, here.
- With Americans more dissatisfied with Congress than ever before, why is there still such an advantage to being an incumbent candidate? Seth Koenig investigates why Mainers keep sending the same people back to Washington despite thinking Congress is awful.
- We’ve paid a lot of attention to the gubernatorial race this election cycle, but Maine’s future rests as much — if not more — on the legislative races that will determine the makeup of the state House and Senate, and the money race there is one-sided, reports Darren Fishell: Outside groups supporting Democratic legislative candidates have spent nearly three times as much as those supporting the GOP. (BONUS UPDATE: Darren reports this morning that $14 million has been spent on this year’s gubernatorial and legislative races. That’s more than three times what was spent in 2010)
- The most recent BDN/Ipsos poll was released last week, and showed Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud tied with 42 percent of the vote. Every poll conducted in the past few weeks has shown a statistical tie between LePage and Michaud, so it’s going to be a long night for both candidates tomorrow.
- Because the polls are so close, the candidates and political parties are focused not on winning over new voters, but ensuring their own partisans show up at the polls. Michaud got a boost from President Barack Obama last week, and LePage will be stumping once again with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tonight.
- Speaking of Michaud, the Sun Journal’s Scott Thistle, had this report about two of the candidate’s former GOP colleagues in the Maine Legislature, who called into question Michaud’s bipartisan bona fides.