On Tuesday, the day Maine Gov. Paul LePage told radio talk show hosts that he feared this year’s election may not be “clean,” a woman walked into Bangor City Hall and asked to speak with the clerk.

Lisa Goodwin said the woman was concerned about what the governor, a supporter of Republican Donald Trump, had said and wanted to be assured that the process would be free of any funny business.

“I talked with her for a while and then I told her if she still had concerns, she was more than welcome to volunteer on Election Day and see for herself,” Goodwin said.

Across the state, clerks and other election officials are busy prepping for one of the most highly anticipated elections in modern times, in particular the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In recent weeks, Trump has cast doubts on the electoral process, warning his supporters that it will be “rigged,” even going so far during Wednesday night’s debate as to say he’s not sure he will accept the results.

Fellow Republicans have cautioned Trump against questioning one of the bedrocks of democracy, but LePage has echoed the nominee’s allegations of potential fraud. He said the only way to combat that is to require voters to present identification at the polls.

For municipal clerks, poll workers and others gearing up to prepare for Election Day, the claims coming from Trump and LePage aren’t helpful.

“I think it undermines the whole democratic process,” said Linda Cohen, a former municipal clerk in Portland and South Portland and now a city councilor in South Portland. “When you start to put doubt in this, what do you have left?”

“On a high level, it’s easy to say ‘Oh it’s rigged,’ but when you’re in it, you realize how absurd that is.”

Goodwin agreed that accusations of electoral chicanery are unhelpful, but she doesn’t let it bother her.

“I don’t mind it if people want to ask questions or even challenge us,” she said. “It bothers me when they don’t let me answer, because then I know they have already made up their mind.”

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat, already has rejected LePage’s accusations about potential fraud, saying it’s virtually nonexistent. He said Maine’s system has numerous checks and balances to ensure integrity, including allowing local political party committees to nominate wardens.

Clerks say the biggest part of ensuring fair elections lies with the hundreds of polling wardens who spend Election Day checking in voters and then counting the ballots. In many cases, they are people who have lived in their communities for decades and feel a sense of civic pride.

“These people have a tremendous duty to oversee this very important thing for their community,” Goodwin said.

Camille Booker, 82, of Lisbon is one of those poll workers. She doesn’t remember exactly how many elections she’s worked in her town but it goes back at least to the 1960s.

Booker said she has complete faith in the electoral process, but has been discouraged with this year’s cycle.

“It’s going to be messy, I think,” she said. “In past elections, people would come in and vote and be friendly even if they voted for different people. I don’t know. I just don’t know if that’s going to happen this year.”

Booker said she’s been around so long she recognizes almost everyone who comes in to vote. LePage and others have pushed for voter IDs, but people like Booker have no need.

“I’ve never had any issues (with fraud) in all the years I’ve been doing this,” she said.

Coupled with his assertions about a rigged election, Trump has called on his supporters to watch other voters at the polls – a move that some say amounts to voter intimidation.

Booker said she’s heard from people who are requesting absentee ballots to vote early, just to avoid the potential circus of Election Day.

According to the Associated Press, the number of ballots cast in Maine as of this week topped 34,000, 67 percent ahead of the pace from four years ago. Dunlap believes the total number of votes cast by absentee ballot could top 230,000 by Election Day. Democrats were outnumbering Republicans roughly 2-to-1 in absentee voting.

Fran Smith, town clerk in Brunswick, said many people have requested absentee ballots so far but no one has asked about the integrity of the process.

“Some want to know what happens to their absentee ballot and how it will be counted, but that’s been it,” she said.

Cohen said her experiences as a clerk gives her confidence that the election in Maine will be free of controversy, but she fears not everyone will accept that.

“I worry about the day after,” she said. “Because some people will believe anything and they may not be happy.”

In Waterville, City Clerk Patti Dubois said it’s been business as usual and she feels confident in the electoral system.

“We have safeguards and we follow them,” Dubois said. “It’s a possibility that there could be doubt, but anyone that becomes familiar with our process tends to feel comfortable with the process.”

Still, Dubois doesn’t like the rhetoric coming from Trump and LePage about the potential for a rigged election.

“I would say it’s a little disheartening for all election officials to hear because we follow the law as it has been written,” she said.

On Wednesday during the final presidential debate, Trump was pressed on whether he would accept the results of the election, given his accusations. He responded by telling moderator Chris Wallace, “I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense.”

Many were shocked by Trump’s comment. Even LePage, who has defended Trump against most attacks, said on a radio show Thursday that it was a “stupid comment,” and that Trump should “get over yourself.”

Other Trump supporters, though, have pointed to the 2000 presidential election, which wasn’t settled on Election Day. They say the Democratic candidate in that race, Al Gore, refused to accept the results. However, that election was different because the outcome of the presidential race hinged on the result in Florida, which was so close it triggered an automatic recount. Gore did eventually concede the race and accept the results.

Cohen said every time she reads about another country trying to set up a democracy and struggling to ensure elections are legitimate and fair, “all I think is how lucky we are that we don’t have that.”

She said she hopes she still feels that way on Nov. 9.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Jason Pafundi contributed to this report.

 


Comments are not available on this story.