WATERVILLE — The hearings of 75 individuals whose Election Day votes in the plastic bag ban referendum are being challenged will begin next week.

At a pre-hearing organization meeting Friday morning, City Solicitor William A. Lee III said that there will be six blocs of hearings, four of which will take place Wednesday and two of which will take place Friday. The first bloc begins at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Colby College student Alexandria Fraize, left, swears the information she gave election clerk Allison Brochu is accurate before voting at Thomas College on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. City Solicitor Bill Lee observes. After an effort to disqualify the votes of Colby College students in the November election was dismissed by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, an appeal has been lodged with the city of Waterville’s Voter Registration Appeals Board. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

The majority of contested voters are Colby students and professors, who have come under fire for casting ballots in the November election without, according to four challengers, providing sufficient proof of having established a fixed residency in Waterville.

Lee encouraged the legal representatives of both sides to submit documentation — mainly proof of residency — as evidence to the Waterville City Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Friday. This would improve the efficiency of the hearings, said Lee, and also allow all parties to review information ahead of Wednesday.

However, City Clerk Patti Dubois said she wouldn’t be staying past 5 p.m. Friday. The challengers didn’t submit any exhibits and only 13 of the 75 contested voters submitted items to her office as of 4:50 p.m.

Mark Andre, an Oakland resident who filed the appeal on March 14 along with Waterville residents Cathy Weeks, Jonathan Weeks and Shaun Caron, said the challengers had not submitted any exhibits as of Friday morning because they only solidified their legal representative, David Geller, a couple of days ago. Geller was not present at Friday’s meeting.

Dubois said earlier Friday she would stay after hours to scan documents and electronically distribute a packet to Waterville’s three-person Voter Registration Appeals Board, city solicitor, and legal representatives for both the contested voters and their challengers. But with so few documents submitted, it didn’t make sense to send out the packets yet.

“We’re hoping to finalize (the packet) on Monday,” she said.

Appeals Board Chairman Roland Hallee said additional evidence can be taken into consideration on the days of the hearings, but “it would be a lot better to get it in today.”

Per Maine law, proof of residency can be verified by documents that include a voter’s income tax return, driver’s license, motor vehicle registration or piece of mail with a non-post-office-box address.

“It may be possible to remove the challenges against some voters if we can see that (documentation), and not have to have (all of) the hearings,” Andre said.

If a challenge against a voter is withdrawn, a hearing for that voter will not need to take place, confirmed Lee.

“We think many will provide (valid proof of residency), but we don’t know because the clerk never asked,” said Andre. “The only thing she asked for (at the time of registration) was a (voter’s) oath.”

Andre, Caron and Cathy and Jonathan Weeks are opponents of the plastic bag ban, which was passed by Waterville voters on Nov. 6, 2018 with a 3,046-2,927 vote. The results of the hearings will not reverse the ban.

The hearings will begin with Geller stating the nature of the challenges against the voters, then calling witnesses who can be cross-examined by all parties, including the appeals board, and re-cross examined if necessary. DuBois will then state her position and be subject to the same process. Next, voters will individually testify.

Dubois will make one opening statement during the first bloc that will be referenced rather than repeated at the subsequent five blocs.

“It will involve the history of voting with Colby,” said Lee, later adding, “We would all agree that the testimony she gave in full can be used in each subsequent section, unless everyone wants to hear the history of Colby students and voting six times.”

There will also be closing arguments for each bloc, but many will similarly reference earlier statements unless there are specific details that pertain to some of the contested voters.

“The closing arguments could be as brief as: ‘I repeat the closing argument I made in the previous bloc with the addition of (such-and-such),” said Lee.

Deliberations and decisions will be made at a public meeting no later than Wednesday, May 8.

“Once we have completed the six blocs on Friday (May 3), the board will then deliberate on each individual case and make rulings or one ruling if necessary,” said Hallee. “That possibility may not happen until the following Wednesday, May 8, because of work schedules amongst the board members. It’d be difficult to have the time to fairly deliberate each case on Friday after the last bloc is heard.”

Ten Colby students have requested to switch the hearing time they have been assigned to in order to accommodate their class schedules, according to their legal counsel Leah Rachin. The Voter Registration Appeals Board said that it would only approve requests that entail switching two students being challenged by the same individual.

“If they’re not interchangeable, it would cause a challenger to be here for an additional hour or two-hour bloc for just one challenged voter, so unless they’re interchangeable, I’d say we do things the way they are,” Hallee said.

“It would be far preferable if the professor could excuse the students for an important civic duty,” said Lee, noting that he had excused students from class numerous times in the past as a former Colby professor himself.

Rachin said that students were concerned about missing classes close to final examinations, which begin May 15.

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