Justin Chenette of Saco, whose second term in the Maine Senate expires next month, has declared his candidacy for Maine Secretary of State. Courtesy Photo/Eduard Chenette

SACO — Justin Chenette, whose second term as state senator for  District 31 concludes in about a month, wants to be Maine’s next secretary of state.

And he believes the people of Maine ought to know. He said the public doesn’t know much about candidates for secretary of state and Maine’s other constitutional offices — attorney general and treasurer — until a day or so before they’re elected by the Legislature, which also elects a state auditor.

“The public should be part of the process to learn who the candidates are,” said Chenette.

Maine’s current secretary of state, Matthew Dunlap, has served the limit of four consecutive two-year terms in the office, which is responsible for the Maine State Archives, the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

“I envision a dynamic office that builds on the important electoral stewardship of Matt Dunlap who is sadly terming out,” said Chenette of his bid for the office. “While no one can replace him, I hope to chart a bold path forward for the role. As Maine’s next secretary of state, I will fight to have high ethical standards of our public officials, preserve the integrity of our electoral process, reduce outside money and influence in our elections, pass democracy reform initiatives to make it easier to vote and for that vote to be respected, promote civics education statewide, and increase overall civic participation.”

“My eight years of service in the Legislature advancing democracy reform, strengthening ethics, expanding campaign finance laws, and empowering youth into the political process have prepared me to take on this responsibility,” he added.


Chenette’s involvement in government came early. Now, 29, at 17 he was named as the first student member of the Maine Board of Education. He became Maine’s youngest lawmaker at 21, when he was elected to the Maine House of Representatives, serving two terms before winning Senate District 31, where one of his committee assignments is Senate chair of the Government Oversight Committee.

A Democrat, Chenette had begun a run for a third Senate term, but withdrew in August. He launched a nonprofit, nonpartisan civics education initiative called the Maine Democracy Project, whose mission is “to empower a new generation of voters, advocates, and leaders through civics education, voter registration, and electoral engagement efforts.”

He recently wrote a children’s book called “The Great Whoopie Pie Debate: A Kid’s Guide to the Maine Legislature,” an expansion of his earlier coloring book version.

He has a degree in broadcast news from Northern Vermont University, earned an executive certificate in public leadership from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and is studying public administration at the University of Maine Augusta.

Among the initiatives Chenette outlined he would champion, if selected, would be to implement automatic voter registration, which was previously passed by the Legislature; provide funding for all municipalities to provide ballot drop boxes, distribute absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters, allow ballots postmarked on Election Day to be counted, make Election Day a holiday, and more. He advocates an expansion of ranked choice voting, banning corporate campaign contributions, banning lobbying firms from contributing to candidates and political action committees, among other initiatives. He would revamp the eighth-grade citizenship award, revamp mock elections so all schools participate, and embark on civics education initiatives aimed at youth.

Chenette said he expects there will be four or five candidates for secretary of state.


Secretary of State’s Office spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski said Dunlap explained the selection process this way:

“Typically, people quietly campaign among the legislators to try and garner enough support for their party’s nomination,” she said. “The parties caucus to choose their nominee and then they call on the person’s nominator during the joint convention on the afternoon of swearing-in day, the first Wednesday of December. The nominator gives a brief speech promoting the candidate, and another member seconds his or her motion. The candidate can also give a brief speech, and then they all vote.”

Chenette said the existing process for election by the Legislature is fine, but is he looking for candidates to be more visible. He would advocate for a more transparent process, by perhaps having candidates for constitutional offices declare their intent with the Maine Ethics Commission, and suggested a neutral organization host public forums with those seeking the offices.

“My push as a candidate for secretary of state is to have an open and transparent race,” he said.

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