WATERVILLE — Opponents of a controversial ban on plastic shopping bags are asking the city to take another look at the registrations of 75 voters whose ballots were recently challenged, calling into question the voting eligibility of Colby College students in a last ditch effort to halt the implementation of the bag ban.

In an appeal filed Thursday with the Waterville Voter Registration Appeals Board, opponents Shaun Caron and Cathy Weeks, of Waterville, and Mark Andre, of Oakland, ask the city to re-examine the validity of 75 voter registrations whose ballots were challenged in November.

The ballots were among 164 total challenged largely on the grounds Colby College students were using mailing addresses rather than physical addresses on voter registrations.

Maine’s secretary of state called the issue “a misunderstanding,” but the ballots were set aside during a recount that ultimately flipped the results of the referendum to defeat the bag ban by seven votes.

It was then sent to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which gets involved in cases where there are enough challenged ballots to determine the results of an election.

But the court dismissed the case earlier this week after Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said she needed more information from the opponents on why the challenged ballots couldn’t be resolved by Waterville’s registrar of voters, Patti Dubois, who has the ultimate say on the validity of voter registrations.

“In the absence of such a complaint, filed within five business days of this order, the Court will conclude that the ballots are no longer challenged and the matter has been resolved,” Saufley wrote.

Andre — who Waterville City Solicitor William A. Lee said does not have standing to file the appeal — said Thursday, however, the failure to file paperwork with the Supreme Court was not an indication the opponents wished to drop the case.

Mark Andre, left, and Catherine Weeks speak November 28 in Augusta.

Caron and Weeks did not respond to phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Andre said they chose to pursue an appeal with the city as a different means of determining whether 75 voter registrations that had been corrected during post-election hearings before Dubois were legitimate.

Another two registrations that went to hearings are not being appealed because one has been resolved to the satisfaction of the opponents and the other was mistakenly challenged.

The opponents were unaware of the municipal appeals process as a means of resolving the challenged ballots, and it also provides a less expensive avenue than continuing to pursue the Supreme Court case, Andre said.

The process for handling the appeal is still being established, but Lee said it will involve individual hearings before the appeals board for each of the voters whose qualifications have been questioned.

The opponents were also notified that if they wish to continue with the appeal it would need to be re-submitted by the original challengers of the voter registrations — which were Caron, Weeks and Jonathan Weeks.

He said Andre cannot bring forward the appeal because he does not live in Waterville and was not one of the original challengers, so his name will have to be removed. He would only be allowed to participate in the hearings if the board approves it.

The appeals board also doesn’t have jurisdiction over whether the bag ban is held up, despite a request from the opponents in their appeal to put it on hold, Lee said.

He said the language of the Supreme Court ruling means the city is obligated to certify the results of the referendum, but he will be recommending the City Council delay its implementation to September 1 in order to give time for the appeals to be resolved.

Debate over the plastic bag ban, which is scheduled to take effect April 22, has dragged on for months since it was first sent to voters in a November referendum.

The ban, spearheaded by the Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition, calls for retail stores of 10,000 square feet or more to ban plastic shopping bags as part of an effort to reach environmental sustainability.

Andre, who was involved in the original ballot challenge but was not officially listed with the city as being involved because he is not a resident, said at the end of the day he is more concerned with voter registration issues than the bag ban itself.

He’s been vocal in pushing for city officials to re-examine the ballots of Colby College students, while other opponents have mostly been mum.

Weeks, who was listed on previous filings with the Supreme Court, said at one point she was not even involved in the dispute and didn’t know why her name was on the court filings. Caron has not commented on the issue.

Mayor Nick Isgro, who pushed for a recount and for the referendum to go before the Supreme Court last year, did not respond to requests for comment this week about why opponents chose not to file the requested paperwork with the Supreme Court.

The original challenges came as Andre was also seeking a legislative seat in House District 110 and raised concerns over a new Colby College dorm in downtown Waterville. The new dorm is located in House District 109, while Colby’s main campus is located in House District 110, which includes parts of Oakland and Waterville.

Andre said at the time he wanted to ensure students in the new dorm were voting in the correct legislative district and not the district they would be assigned based on their mailing addresses.

He has also said since then he has concerns about students voting who do not have Maine driver’s licenses, do not register their vehicles in Maine and do not pay taxes in the state, although the law on voter registration requirements do not require any of those things as proof of residency.

In the appeal submitted to the city Thursday, Andre and the others wrote that the basis of their appeal is they were unable to determine whether the evidence used by Dubois in registration hearings after the election meets state standards for voter qualifications.

Between mid-November and mid-December, voters whose ballots were challenged had the opportunity to attend hearings before Dubois at City Hall and verify the addresses on their registrations.

When asked for examples of a lack of evidence, Andre said it is something the opponents will bring before the appeals board. He said he took issue with the voters in question taking oaths before the registrar but not having to provide further proof of residency at the hearings.

The voters, who are predominantly if not all Colby College students, had already provided identification, the last four digits of their social security numbers and their current addresses to the registrar, Lee said.

Dubois, who is also the city clerk, notified the students of hearings to confirm their registrations by sending written letters to the physical addresses they provided. At the hearings, they signed written oaths confirming their addresses, Lee said.

“We want to preserve Waterville elections for Waterville residents,” Andre said. “I think any of these individuals who can come forward and show established residency in Waterville, I’m all for their vote counting. But because we don’t have proof of that, I’m not sure (they should vote). I hope through this process Waterville residents and all those involved will be sure. That’s important for the process and so that everyone has faith in it.”

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]
Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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