Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers oversees the state’s elections, and elections are something that he knows a lot about. Summers is a former state senator and has made three unsuccessful runs for Congress.

But in his current job, Summers should stop acting like a candidate. That’s what he sounded like last week, however, when he called a press conference a few days after state Republican Party chairman Charlie Webster made unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud by college students in previous elections.

Summers chimed in to say that he’s heard that high-ranking officials in a previous secretary of state’s administration had ordered an employee to destroy Bureau of Motor Vehicle records of people suspected of fraudulently getting identity documents.

Those are serious charges — if there is anything to them — but Summers offered no details, claiming that the case was the subject of an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office.

The two announcements would not cause much of a stir, except when you remember that the state passed a Summers-supported bill this year that would make voting more difficult by eliminating same-day registration. Repeal of that measure is the subject of a people’s veto petition campaign, and the sides are already lining up their arguments.

That’s fine. If Webster wants to claim that 200 or so college students who pay out-of-state tuition should have been prevented from voting — even though the Supreme Court has found that college students can vote where they go to school even if they don’t qualify for an in-state tuition discount — that’s his right as a partisan leader.


That kind of campaigning comes with a built-in correction: A party leader who makes bombastic charges ends up hurting his candidate in the long-run — just ask the Democratic Party brain trust that came up with attack mailings against gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler last year.

But for the Maine secretary of state to throw out a charge without anything to back it up is not what we expect from someone who is supposed to be a fair broker of elections instead of a participant in them.

And Summers has plenty of reasons to stay out of the fray. One is that the registration issue could soon come before the voters. Another is that his predecessor as secretary of state, Matthew Dunlap, is a potential Democratic candidate to run against Sen. Olympia Snowe — Summer’s former boss.

If Summers knows something he’s not saying, he should speak up. If he knows something he can’t say, he should not have held a press conference in the first place.

And most importantly, the man in charge of assuring the integrity of the state’s elections should stay on the sidelines and leave the wild allegations to others.

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