Monday, February 7, 2022

Committee votes to strengthen protections for election workers, ballots, and election infrastructure

AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs committee voted today to support bills to strengthen protections for election workers, ballots, and election infrastructure.

Committee members voted unanimously in favor of an amended version of L.D. 1821, “An Act To Make Interfering with an Election Official a Class C Crime,” from Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, which will strengthen election worker protections by adding threatening an election official to election law as a Class D crime, as well as adding a reporting procedure for any threats election officials receive. Additionally, the Secretary of State will provide town and city clerks and registrar with de-escalation training.

Committee members voted 7-5 in favor of L.D. 1779, “An Act To Protect Election Integrity by Regulating Possession of Ballots and Voting Machines and Devices,” from Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, which will clarify the chain of custody for both ballots and voting machines to ensure there is certainty regarding who may legally possess them – preventing the type of issues which occurred in Arizona and Colorado after the 2020 election where voting machines and ballots were turned over to unauthorized individuals with partisan agendas.

“Protecting Maine’s elections from interference and subversion, either through election worker intimidation or outside political interference, is paramount,” said Secretary of State Shenna Bellows. “When our town and city clerks are threatened, or ballots and equipment compromised, our democracy itself is threatened.”

“I have had the pleasure of volunteering at elections in my hometown on a number of occasions,” said Rep. White. “Our Waterville election workers are dedicated individuals, as are all election workers across the state. They are nonpartisan and voluntarily work long hours to support the democratic process. I am grateful the committee supported my bill to provide adequate protection to those who work to ensure all of us can cast a ballot on Election Day.”

“Maine voters deserve to know we are doing everything we can to protect their votes,” said Rep. Pierce. “We are fortunate to have top-notch elections officials and a very secure voting system, but other states have recently seen issues that have risked the security of their voting systems and elections. We can’t let that happen here. This measure will help us prevent those types of issues by safeguarding against interference with ballots and voting equipment.”

In the last year there has been a dramatic increase in documented threats against election officials all across the country. In July, the FBI announced a new law enforcement task force to deal with threats against election workers. In December, a national news organization, Reuters, conducted a nationwide investigation and identified 850 messages that met the level of threat that is a violation of federal law. “You and your family will be killed slowly.” “Watch your back. I know where you sleep, I see you sleeping. Be afraid, Be very afraid.” Here in Maine, the Secretary’s office received documented reports of at least two threats of physical violence against municipal clerks.

Both bills will next go to the Legislature for further votes.