The head of Maine's Republican Party issued an apology after two days of criticism--much of it from members of his own party--for suggesting that black people in his state committed voter fraud on Election Day.
"It was my intention to talk not about race, but about perceived voting irregularities," Charlie Webster said in a written statement. "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."
Webster originally claimed in a local TV interview that he saw "dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on Election Day" and because "nobody in town knows anybody that's black" he declared an investigation. Webster told a more specific number to the Portland Press-Herald: "I'm not talking about 15 or 20. I'm talking hundreds."
In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Webster admitted he regretted the language he used in his local media interviews:
“I regret saying the word black because it wasn’t like I was singling out black. 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 also defended himself against the charges that he was a racist.
“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. 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.”
Initially, Webster stated his investigation would have been conducted with his personal funds after his tenure would end on Dec. 1. He intended to personally mail thank you cards to all the new voters in rural towns and track whether any were returned with invalid addresses. Late Thursday, he said he has no plan to send any cards.
Webster also stated in his apology that his claim did not express the views of the party.