The head of Maine’s Republican Party defended himself on Thursday over comments he made about black people committing voter fraud in his state.
In an interview with TPM, Charlie Webster said his remarks earlier in the week had been misinterpreted as racist, but he still insisted it was “unusual” to see so many black voters at the polls in an overwhelmingly white state.
Webster had claimed in interviews with local media outlets that having a high number of blacks showing up at the polls could be a sign of voter fraud. He vowed to investigate. That investigation would be conducted using his own private funds after he steps down from his party post on Dec. 1, Webster told TPM.
He also said he regretted some of the language he used in the previous interviews.
“I regret saying the word black because it wasn’t like I was singling out black,” Webster said. “The reason I said it, ‘cause I don’t know where you live, but where I come from in rural Maine, it’s a small percentage of the population. I think we’re the whitest state in the country. So if you go to the polls and see people who are black, it’s unusual. And when you see a lot of people who are black, like six or eight or ten people, you think, ‘Wow, where do they live?’ That was my point.”
Webster’s investigation will involve him personally mailing postcards to people who registered to vote on Election Day in rural towns. He believes the state should not allow voters to register the same day they vote and that voter ID could help combat fraud.
Webster told TPM he heard from five individuals who were concerned by the number of minority voters casting ballots on Election Day.
“If you live in a town of a few hundred people and you go to the post office every day, if there’s someone who doesn’t look like you, you usually know that,” Webster said. “And that’s why when folks called me and said, ‘Where did this Chinese man come from? We don’t have any Chinese people here. Where did they come from?” Well, I don’t know! It’s a good point.”
Webster said he wasn’t racist and that he had several black friends.
“There’s nothing about me that would be discriminatory. I know black people. I play basketball every Sunday with a black guy. He’s a great friend of mine. Nobody would ever accuse me of suggesting anything,” he said. “What I do suggest is that same-day voter registration without voter ID is pretty hard to police, and it’s odd that hundreds of people in a small town would show up.”
Webster hopes his investigation will settle his concerns.
“One of the things I’d like to do is nip this in the butt (sic) for good, and that’s why at my own expense I will do something after I’m no longer chairman,” Webster said. “I’m sick of hearing about it. Maybe there’s not a problem, maybe there is. I believe there is.”