AUGUSTA — Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap has been invited to join a special commission being assembled by President Trump to look into potential voter fraud.

Dunlap, a Democrat, has been skeptical of claims of widespread voter fraud, but said Thursday he believes the commission could be worthwhile. Dunlap said he was asked to join by Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump has claimed, without providing evidence, that millions of illegal immigrants cast ballots in November. The commission is being headed by Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who advised Trump’s transition team.

“I think the outcome of the commission’s work, without prejudging it, is that they are probably not going to find a hell of a lot,” Dunlap said. Maine has investigated voter fraud complaints in recent years and found it is virtually non-existent. That would be a valuable addition to the national discussion, he said.

Dunlap said a special task force set up under his Republican predecessor, Charlie Summers, determined that imposing a photo identification requirement for voting could dissuade people from voting. The national commission will likely find some instances of ballots being improperly cast, but without malice.

“Politically, if they actually find what I think they will find but then try to inflate it into something else, where is my position strongest? Is it on the outside or is it on the inside?” Dunlap asked. “If I’m actually on this commission and I’m at the table talking about this stuff, I’m in a better posture to debunk it than I would be if I refused to serve and said I’m not going to be affiliated with anything in the Trump administration. I don’t think that’s very productive.”

Dunlap also said it may be telling that Trump wants panel members whom his administration knows may have dissenting views on the issue.

“You may want to characterize it that way – that having two long-time Democratic secretaries of state on the commission, myself and Bill Gardiner from New Hampshire, adds some gravitas to it,” Dunlap said.

Trump has claimed that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in his 2016 campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton. He has promised for months to investigate “election integrity.”

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly alleged that the election system was “rigged” and after his victory argued that massive, widespread fraud kept him from winning the popular vote. Trump won the presidency with a 306-232 Electoral College victory despite getting 3 million fewer popular votes than Clinton.

Voting experts and many lawmakers have said they have seen nothing to suggest millions of people voted illegally. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, has said there is no evidence of voter fraud and his committee plans no investigation.

Trump said in February that he would have won in New Hampshire if not for voters bused in from out of state. New Hampshire officials have said there was no evidence of major voter fraud in the state.

Kobach, the man leading the commission along with Pence, has been a leading Republican proponent of tighter voting regulations.

Dunlap said Kobach first talked to him about joining the panel during a conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State earlier this year. Dunlap said he gets along with Kobach, though he doesn’t necessarily share many of Kobach’s views on voter fraud.

He said he was sending his application for the commission Thursday and hoped to be selected, albeit as a skeptical voice.

“If they come up with some sort of hokey thesis that one person, who wasn’t properly registered and voted in a district they didn’t actually live in, or something like that, constitutes the tip of the iceberg, widespread voter fraud – well you walk away and say the commission has no credibility,” Dunlap said.

He said the other option would be write a separate report countering any legislation the commission might propose to tighten voting restrictions.

“That’s a strong thing to say if you are a member of the commission,” Dunlap said. He made the analogy of bagging groceries.

“If you are at the grocery store and you don’t bag your own groceries you complain about it but it doesn’t really change the fact that your eggs are broken right? If you bag your own groceries, you don’t have as much to complain about because you have a little more control over what goes into the bag.”

Gov. Paul LePage has echoed some of Trump’s statements about widespread voter fraud and openly disputed Dunlap’s assurances that the system is sound. LePage’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment about Dunlap being invited to participate on the Trump commission.

Dunlap clashed with LePage over the issue in November 2016, disputing the governor’s claim that college students might be casting ballots illegally. A month earlier, LePage told talk radio hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler he didn’t have confidence in Maine’s election system.

In December, LePage refused to certify some of the state’s election results, saying, “(Dunlap) cannot guarantee that no college students voted both in Maine and their home state. He cannot guarantee someone did not vote in both the town they previously lived in and the town they now reside in.” He also repeated his concerns in a letter to incoming lawmakers that said, “I maintain strong concerns regarding the integrity of Maine’s ballot and the accuracy of Maine’s election results.”

Some Republican lawmakers tried in April to pass a state law to require photo identification at the polls, but it was rejected in both the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratically-controlled House of Representatives.

Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, the sponsor of that bill, said his concern wasn’t about widespread fraud but more about ensuring “integrity of the process” by adding a layer of protection. Farrin said he thought it good that Dunlap was asked to participate on the national panel.

“I think Matt Dunlap is a man of integrity,” Farrin said. “And I think having a seat at the table is a good thing, because sometimes if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Farrin said the commission, whether it finds fraud or not, could help restore confidence in the country’s election systems.

“Hats off to the president in reaching out to opposing views and thoughts to be part of the commission,” Farrin said. “You can’t say he’s stacking the table with everybody that thinks it’s a major problem.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog