WATERVILLE — Meghan Parker dutifully registered to vote last spring after she had entered Colby College as a freshman the previous fall.

A Colby political club had a table in the student union with applications for registering, and she filled one out.

Parker, who lives on the Mayflower Hill campus, exercised her right to vote in the Nov. 6, 2018, election. An environmental studies major, she voted to approve a plastic bag ban that would prohibit businesses of 10,000 square feet or larger in size from dispensing single-use plastic bags.

A shopper leaves Save-A-Lot in Waterville with his purchases in a plastic bag on March 15. The store charges customers 10 cents per bag. In the November 2018 election, Waterville voters passed a ban on plastic bags from stores of more than 10,000 feet. However, some residents have challenged the votes of 75 people, primarily Colby College students, questioning their claims of residency. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

“I am in strong support of the plastic bag ban because it’s environmentally friendly, and one of the towns next to my hometown implemented a similar ban, and it’s been really effective,” Parker, 20,  said Wednesday.

A sophomore from Carlisle, Massachusetts, she said she voted early at Waterville City Hall a couple of weeks before the November election last year.

In December, she was surprised to be notified her eligibility to vote was being challenged. Then she got another letter two weeks ago saying she was being challenged a second time and hearings were scheduled.

“Your right to vote is — not to sound cliché, but it is one of the pillars of U.S. democracy, and I think it’s pretty clear that none of the Colby students being challenged voted in tw0 places or did anything against the rules,” Parker said.

She is one of 75 people, mostly Colby students, whose eligibility to vote in the Nov. 6, 2018, election is being challenged. Many of those voters will go before a city appeals board May 1 and 3 to defend their right to vote. Parker is scheduled to appear before the board at 9:45 a.m. May 3.

“I think it’s absurd that we are being required to prove our residency again, for the second time, and this is six months after Election Day,” Parker said Wednesday.

Challenging the voters’ eligibility before the Waterville Voter Registration Appeals Board next month will be residents Cathy Weeks and her husband, Jonathan, as well as Shaun Caron.

They requested the hearings be held, saying they were unable to determine from evidence provided by the voters and city registrar Patti Dubois in previous hearings held Nov. 11 to Dec. 14, 2018, that the voters showed proof of qualifications to vote.

The hearings are open to the public, but only those whose business is being conducted will be able to speak, including voters and witnesses.

The Weekses and Caron suspect those voters swore an oath of residency and gave no other proof of residency to confirm the validity of those oaths, they said in a letter to the Appeals Board, dated March 18.

The issue first arose when voters on Nov. 6 approved the plastic bag ban and challengers questioned the eligibility of the 75 voters. City Clerk and registrar of voters Patti Dubois determined they were eligible. The challengers then went before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which basically dismissed the case because the challengers failed to file requested paperwork with the court.

Before the May 1 and 3 hearings, to be held in the Chace Community Forum in the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons downtown, a preliminary hearing will be held at 9 a.m. April 26 to go over the ground rules, according to Roland Hallee, chairman of the Appeals Board.

The meetings May 1 and 3 will be held starting at 8:45 a.m. Groups of 12 voters will be considered in six one-and-a-half-hour blocks, with one challenger scheduled to represent the opposition in each block.

Besides Hallee, Appeals Board members are Kim Lane and Roger Collins. Hallee, who has been the city’s election warden many years, also is a former city councilor.

“Each challenged voter will have an opportunity to prove their residency,” Hallee said Wednesday, “and then the city clerk, who also is registrar of voters, will present evidence that the city has.”

He said the board tried to schedule ample time for each block of voters so as not to extend into the next hearing block. The hearings should be completed by May 3, and the board will deliberate at the conclusion of the May 3 hearing or on May 8, according to Hallee.

He said some students have emailed Hallee, saying they are unable to attend the hearings. Parker said that is because Wednesday and Friday mornings are the time students have the most class times and lectures are held. Finals start around May 15 and end around the 21st, she said.

Waterville City Solicitor William A. Lee III will represent the city in the hearings. Lee said Wednesday that the voters are entitled to make a presentation, and some may be bringing their own lawyers to the hearings.

“They can be questioned and the board can question them as well,” Lee said of voters. “We want everybody who is entitled to be heard to be heard, and the board, I’m sure, will deliberate and consider all the evidence.”

Lee said he has heard an attorney might be entering an appearance at the hearings on behalf of the challengers, and he has asked that he be apprised if that is the case.

“This is an unusual type of hearing, and there are some procedural matters that need to be worked out so that this whole thing proceeds smoothly,” he said.

He said once deliberations are complete, the voters will be apprised of the outcome.

“The board will issue 75 individual decisions,” he said.

Meanwhile, the City Council on Tuesday voted to extend the launch of the plastic bag ban from April 22 to Sept. 1, until after the voting issue is resolved.

Parker says she does not want to speak for other Colby students whose eligibility to vote is being challenged, but she thinks they generally feel the way she does.

“One thing I would say is that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has already rejected this case, and I think that the Waterville Board of Voter Registration Appeals should put faith in the city clerk who has already verified our voter registrations,” Parker said.

Asked how she feels about the upcoming hearings, she said she looks forward to being there and seeing a resolution in the case.

“I think that it’s important to go to make sure that we don’t let the people that are challenging our votes succeed, because I don’t think they’re right,” Parker said. “I’m just hopeful that this will be resolved after the hearings.”

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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