ELLSWORTH — A handful of proposed bills for the state’s 130th Legislature deal with voting and elections.
While the timing feels especially relevant following the contentious general election last year, state Reps. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth) and William “Billy Bob” Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) say the impetus behind their separate proposed legislation was not the 2020 election.
“This is something that has been proposed in previous years. It’s not new,” Grohoski told the Islander regarding the bill she is drafting with The League of Women Voters, An Act to Require Election Transparency and Audits (LR 1282).
The bill, still in its early stages, calls for the secretary of state to develop a pilot audit program to be used following the 2022 general election, with the potential of using it as an ongoing program.
Post-election auditing is something Secretary of State Shenna Bellows has previously voiced support for to maintain and restore public confidence in the state’s election systems.
Additionally, the bill calls for the development of a guide to inform voters on election procedures and the implementation of a complaint process to provide “a better window into what concerns the citizens have,” Grohoski said.
Grohoski explained that the bill was not developed because past mistakes occurred, but to make the practice of auditing a routine process that is done outside of times of concern.
“Having something that is routine and scheduled, such as an audit, is really important,” she said.
Checking election processes regularly will help develop “a standard that we are all used to.”
Grohoski added that the practice is “not meant to question the good work that our clerks do, it is meant to support [their] work” during election cycles.
“Our clerks do a phenomenal job,” she said.
For voters who may be skeptical of the election process, “I always encourage them to sign up and work at the polls,” said Grohoski, who used to volunteer at the polls before running for office.
That kind of access provides workers with an up-close look at election safeguards and workers treating each voter and ballot with respect, she said.
During her time as an election worker, Grohoski said she witnessed “very little to no irregularity.”
As to whether the bill would receive bipartisan support, Grohoski said, “I hope that all my colleagues agree that transparencies which improve voter confidence in our excellent election systems in Maine is a priority that we all share.”
For Faulkingham, a post-election auditing program implemented by the secretary of state could “absolutely” get bipartisan support.
“The way to restore that confidence [in our elections] is by the most openness and transparency,” he said.
He noted that waning public confidence in elections was not only a factor last year, but also during the 2016 general election.
Faulkingham’s proposed legislation includes An Act to Create a Voter Identification System (LR 223) and An Act to Protect the Privacy of Absentee Voters (LR1137).
The latter would require absentee ballots to be placed inside an unmarked sleeve inside the envelope that is mailed to the town office.
“People have a right to privacy at the ballot box,” Faulkingham explained.
He said that his bill is not designed to accuse town clerks of looking at who people voted for on their absentee ballots.
“It’s just a way to prevent that from happening,” Faulkingham said.
Faulkingham said privacy concerns were brought to his attention by a constituent prior to last year’s election.
His proposed voter identification system would require voters to provide photo identification when voting. He said the bill would require the identification to be provided by the Secretary of State’s Office free of charge to voters.
Faulkingham also is working on a proposed resolution, an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Specify the Qualification of Electors (LD 107), to keep noncitizens from voting.
“For me, it’s a hard line. Only U.S. citizens can vote in any election,” he said.
The Maine Constitution currently says that “Every citizen of the United State of the age 18 years and upwards … having his or her residence established in this state, shall be an elector for governor, senators and representatives in the city, town or plantation where his or her residence has been established.”
State statute deems that a voter “must be a citizen of the United States.”
But Faulkingham wants the sentence “Only a citizen of the United States may vote in a state, county or municipal or other local election” added to the state’s Constitution.
“That way, it will explicitly clear up this debate because there are some people who want noncitizens to vote,” he said.
Faulkingham cited a 2009 opinion by then-Attorney General Janet Mills that stated that while Maine’s Constitution requires voters for governor, state senator or state representative be U.S. citizens, “it does not require that those voting for municipal or county offices be citizens.”
Additionally, Faulkingham said constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in the state House and Senate and then a referendum by voters, whereas state statute can be changed by the majority in the Legislature.
“That is not strong protection,” he said.
The Maine Municipal Association (MMA), a member-based, nonpartisan organization that provides professional services to municipalities, opposes Faulkingham’s resolution.
Kate Dufour, a member of the association’s Legislative Policy Committee, stated in written testimony to members of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee dated Feb. 10, “Since Maine Statute already requires U.S. citizenship as a qualification for voter eligibility, municipal officials oppose LD 107 as duplicative and therefore unnecessary.”
In its Feb. 12 Legislative Bulletin, the MMA also noted that other opponents of the resolution “raised concerns with the bill’s intent to divide rather than unite Maine residents.”