So there sits Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a minority Democrat on a commission created to ferret out those millions of people who, according to President Trump, “voted illegally” in last fall’s national election.

The same Dunlap who is already on record saying he doesn’t believe a word of it.

What could possibly go wrong?

“It puts a bullhorn in my hands,” Dunlap explained during an interview in his office Friday.

A bullhorn? For what?

“I think there’s great value in stating the obvious.”


Such as?

Dunlap, rarely at a loss for words, thought about this one for a few seconds.

“What’s obvious to me is that elections run really, really well,” he finally said. “Very committed people do a great job. And the public has a lot to be proud of and to trust. To me, that’s the obvious.”

It’s been three months since Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state for 11 of the past 13 years, accepted an invitation to sit on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

Led by Vice President Mike Pence and Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas, the panel of seven Republicans and five Democrats has stumbled out of the gate after Kobach twice sent letters to all 50 states asking for comprehensive voter information – requests that all but a handful of states, including Maine, have denied.

Critics far and wide say the whole commission is a sham, a transparent attempt to lend credence to a longstanding Republican mantra that our election system is rife with illegal voting by noncitizens, by students, by dead people …


“I don’t think we’re going to find very much,” Dunlap said. “And if this commission has any sense of dignity, if we don’t find very much, then we just stop meeting at some point.”

But what if the commission, as many fear it will, grasps at what few straws it can find and uses them to erect new barriers between the electorate and the voting booth?

“Then I’m going to be out there with that bullhorn,” Dunlap replied.

He joined the commission at the urging of Kobach. Despite their perches at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Dunlap still considers the fiery Kansan “a good guy.”

The two became acquainted through the National Association of Secretaries of State. They bonded over, of all things, guns.

“I set him up with a sporting camp up north. He brought the family. They had a great time,” recalled Dunlap, an avid sportsman who once chaired the Maine Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and served for a short stint as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.


“(Kobach) tends to pigeonhole Democrats as holding a certain series of beliefs, guaranteed,” mused Dunlap. “I think I fascinate him in a certain sense. … We can have a conversation about ballistics. It amazes him that a Democrat knows anything about bullet weight, trajectories, the certain load of a .30-06, the 150-grain versus the 180-grain, the hollow point versus the soft point.”

But whatever their shared interests in firearms, they’re way beyond each other’s range when it comes to the integrity of America’s elections.

Kobach has already gone on record claiming that voter fraud poses a real and present danger to the republic.

Dunlap, meanwhile, detects danger in the notion that voters can’t be trusted.

“It’s natural – in fact it goes back to before the founding of our republic – for the public, the citizens of this country, to not trust their government. That’s normal,” he said. “When the relationship becomes dangerous is when government does not trust its citizens. And Trump saying that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally and we all have something to hide tells me that he does not trust the citizens.”

Then why aid and abet that effort by joining the commission? Why not denounce it as a charade like so many others have and walk away?


Two reasons.

First, Maine has been here before: A much-ballyhooed commission formed in 2012 to examine alleged widespread voter fraud here found no such thing.

Thus, when Dunlap consulted his elections staff on Kobach’s invitation to join the president’s commission, they responded with a resounding “yes.”

“If they’re going to do this and they’re asking you to be a part of it, you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to tell our story,” said Dunlap recalling his staff’s advice.

To illustrate his second reason for signing on with Kobach, Dunlap invokes the typical crank at the typical Maine town meeting who rails on … and on … and on about corruption in the public works department and the need to cut out all road funding and blah, blah, blah.

“You know how you handle that?” he said. “You handle it by letting them talk, letting them air their grievance or articulate it in a motion – and then it goes up on its belly and goes down in a sheet of flame. And they’ve had their say. You don’t deal with that by saying, ‘I’m not going to allow you to speak.’ ”


Ditto for the commission. Nipping it in the bud now, as many have demanded, would only provide the conspiracy theorists a bigger platform as they claim that “the truth” is being suppressed by the powers that be.

Far better, Dunlap said, to “lift up the covers and shine the flashlight under the bed and say, ‘Look, there are no monsters there.’ ”

And so he’s in, provided it doesn’t reach the point where “I’m completely ineffective and can’t get that story out” or, even worse, his name is attached to a finding he doesn’t consider valid.

When appropriate, he’ll advocate for improvements in the 50 states’ election systems (see: more interstate cooperation in updating voter rolls). What he won’t do is surrender his steadfast belief that Americans are, by and large, an honest people.

Back when he was in the Legislature, Dunlap spearheaded a survey to gauge how many Mainers obtain a fishing license before they drop a line – and how many don’t.

“We have about 5,000 bodies of water in the state of Maine and 3,000 brooks and rivers,” he said. “Now at any given time, we probably have no more than 40 game wardens on duty. You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than to run into a game warden.”


The survey said?

“The compliance rate is 98 percent,” Dunlap said. “People are law-abiding.”

That’s his message for the voter fraud commission. And that’s why, despite all the pleas to walk away, he’ll stay put for now.

“If you’re not at the table,” Dunlap noted, “you’re on the menu.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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