Citing high number of rural black voters, Maine GOP chair suspects "improprieties" at the polls

A stuffed loon overlooks voters in the Old Town Hall, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, on Westport Island, Maine.
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

UPDATE: Webster offered a full apology late Thursday evening. See update at bottom of post.

Maine Republican Party chairman Charlie Webster is doubling down on his suggestion that there were "improprieties" at the Maine polls last week, insisting he received complaints from candidates in small towns across the state that "new people came to vote" and "I believe that that's questionable."

Webster has been the source of some controversy after suggesting in an interview with WCSH-TV this week that "In some parts of rural Maine, there were dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on Election Day."

"Everybody has a right to vote, but nobody in [these] towns knows anyone who's black," Webster told WCSH-TV's Don Carrigan. "How did that happen? I don't know. We're going to find out."

Reached on his cell phone by CBSNews.com, Webster refused to provide details regarding the specific towns in question, the number of "new" voters to whom he was referring, or the percentage of those people who were African-American. Megan Sanborn, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Charlie Summers, told CBSNews.com the office had not received any complaints or accusations of voter fraud from the past election, and that there had been no noticeable uptick in African-American turnout in the state.

"At this point this has become much more drama than I want to deal with," said Webster. "I didn't realize that [Maine] had changed so much that we have to be so politically correct, and I apologize if someone was offended."

Webster defended his initial statement, however, arguing that he meant to say people in small towns generally know their neighbors, and that in the particular complaints he received, some of the allegedly unfamiliar voters were African-American.

"This was something that people called me about as chairman saying, 'Gee, why do we have so many people show up that no one knows?'" Webster said. "My feeling is that there are people who vote in more than one place and they're not residents of the communities that live here... There's a lot of us who believe that there's voter improprieties in Maine."

"I think if I hadn't in error made comments suggesting it was black people or Hispanic people or Mexican people or Chinese people -- in this case it was African-American people -- it wouldn't be that big a deal," he added.

Webster said he doesn't understand "how anybody could misinterpret" his comments as racially charged or discriminatory, and that a handful of members of the media are "making this more than it is."

"It's not the black thing. It's not about being black. It's about the fact that when you live in a small town most people know you. I live in a town of six or seven thousand people. There are some black people. I would know most of these people," he said. For example, he said, he knows a Chinese man who lives up the street from him. "If there were a number of Chinese people who came in, I'd say, 'wow.'" Asked if that is because he only knows one Chinese person in town, he said yes.

"People who, for example, are black would stand out in a small town in Maine. They wouldn't be discriminated against; there would be nothing wrong with that, but you know your neighbors in rural Maine," he said.

Because no evidence has been provided to support Webster's claims, Sanborn says the Secretary of State's office will not proceed with an investigation.

"Our office can't do anything off of hearsay and Secretary Summers feels that every Maine person has the right to vote," said Sanborn, who added that Summers had been "a little shocked" by Webster's comments. "He is proud that Maine has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the nation."

Webster, however, plans to conduct something of an investigation himself. He says that after ending his tenure as Maine GOP chair on December 1, he'll use his own money to send out postcards in the towns where he suspects fraud to see how many are returned to sender.

"If I mail 500 postcards to a small town and 50 come back, you'll wonder why people don't get the mail where they said they lived," he said. "If every one is delivered then it won't matter, will it?"

UPDATE: After speaking with CBSNews.com, Webster offered a full apology in a written statement late Thursday.

"It was my intention to talk not about race, but about perceived voting irregularities," he said. "However, my comments were made without proof of wrongdoing and they had the unintended consequence of casting aspersions on an entire group of Americans. For that, I am truly sorry."