Congratulations to Shenna Bellows on becoming Maine’s new secretary of state and the first woman to hold that role.

The Secretary of State’s Office plays an important role in eliminating barriers to political participation through its administration of elections; increasing access to economic opportunity through the administration of driver’s license and motor-vehicle laws, and creating a complete and inclusive narrative of Maine and its residents through the State Archive. Bellows’ history of defending personal privacy and voter rights, and experience as both an elected official and a nonprofit executive, make her a great fit for the job.

Mainers have seldom been as politically divided as we are today. High praise goes to outgoing Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, all the staff in the elections division and the hundreds of municipal clerks and volunteers who put in thousands of hours, far above and beyond the call of duty, to overcome the obstacles presented by holding this year’s elections during COVID. Voter turnout was high, and despite many anxieties, the League of Women Voters of Maine’s nonpartisan election observers did not record a single incident of election disruption.

At the same time, the challenges of our COVID election have shone a light on the places where Maine’s election process could be more efficient and easier to navigate for voters. While some Maine communities surpassed 85 percent voter participation, we still have lower-than-average turnout among low-income voters and people of color, who face additional barriers to exercising their rights.

As Mainers sheltered at home, and mail deliveries were delayed, many voters asked, “Can I register to vote online?” Unfortunately, the answer was “no.” Maine is one of only 10 states that does not allow online voter registration. As Bellows implements automatic voter registration, which will update and register voters when they update their information with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, we have an opportunity to expand this service to an online portal for voters. During the candidate forum hosted by the league and 18 other organizations last month, Bellows expressed support for policies that other states have already adopted with success, including online voter registration.

The introduction of secure drop boxes and online absentee ballot tracking this fall was a big step to increasing voter confidence and modernizing our election processes. There’s no reason, with time before our next big election, that we couldn’t have an easy-to-use website that allows voters to check their registration status, register or update their information, request an absentee ballot and check the status of their ballot. This information should be consistent and easy to find for every voter, no matter where they live.

Our democracy rests not just on the integrity of our election process, but also on the confidence that we, as citizens, have in our elections. No evidence suggests that any votes have been compromised. The persons responsible for our elections are dedicated, conscientious professionals. Nonetheless, a well-designed post-election audit can identify and correct any errors in ballot counting. A transparent audit that is open to the public and the media can provide a powerful counternarrative to claims of tampering and fraud. A process audit may find ways to streamline and tighten our procedures as well.

Maine’s motto might as well be: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We like economizing, reusing and doing things as we’ve always done. Coming off a successful election, it would be easy to say that nothing needs to change. But that would be to ignore the ways that Maine is starting to fall behind the rest of the country, and in the process, make voting unnecessarily difficult for Mainers to navigate.

Our actual motto is “Dirigo – I lead.” Maine has a long history of leading election innovation, and Maine’s most important election tradition is high voter turnout and trust in our election officials and processes. We can keep that tradition alive in the 21st century by investing in modern technology, and with a strong commitment from our secretary of state, to be transparent with creative public communication.

We’re rooting for you, Madame Secretary, and we are ready to help.


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