Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows touted Maine’s election laws and their role in driving voter participation in a hearing before Congress Thursday on H.R.1, the Democrats’ high-profile electoral reform package, which seeks to reduce the role of money in politics while increasing access and voting rights.

“Democracy is stronger when it represents everyone, and when everyone can participate,” Bellows told the  Committee on House Administration in the virtual hearing. “H.R.1 is critical because it eliminates barriers and lifts up the votes of ordinary people in our democracy. H.R. 1 builds upon tried and true practices already proven to work in states like Maine and across the country.”

The former Democratic state senator from Manchester testified that many key measures in H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021, have long been used in Maine to good effect, including same-day voter registration, allowing full voting rights to convicts and former convicts, “no excuse” absentee voting, public campaign financing, and the use of paper ballots to verify vote tallies.

Democrats on the committee asked questions to elicit Bellows’ reasoning for supporting the bill.

“The Constitution applies to all Americans all across the country and your right to register to vote and cast your vote and be counted should not be determined by where you live,” she said in response to a question from Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, who led the impeachment case against former President Donald Trump before the Senate. “It should be equal and safe and secure all across the country.”

Republican members of the committee argued the bill amounted to a federal imposition on the states. “H.R. 1 would impose a one-size-fits-all approach to election administration,” Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, said. “We like local control.”

Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wisconsin, used his time to grill Bellows on her experience as a candidate, elections official and former director of the Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He questioned whether she was a useful witness given that she had yet to actually administer an election, having started her tenure as secretary of state just last month.

Weil asked Bellows if Maine had experienced long wait lines in the 2020 election and, when Bellows began to describe why Maine did not, cut her off to suggest that since Maine had avoided delays using only state laws there was no reason to pass a federal one.

He then asked if she had run as a clean elections candidate for re-election to the state Senate and then noted taxpayers had spent $74,000 and now might foot additional bills for the special election to replace her. Bellows began to respond that 67 percent of Republicans had also used public financing in the election, but Weil cut in again to assert his concern that if the federal bill passed, U.S. taxpayers would similarly “be on the hook.”

Weil concluded by asking if, as a former state chapter director, she disagreed with the ACLU’s opposition to the 2019 version of H.R. 1 over campaign finance restrictions it argued amounted to an unconstitutional burden on speech.

“I support the campaign finance disclosure requirements in this bill because I think they are vital to our democracy and in getting dark money out,” Bellows responded, adding that a number of former ACLU officials support it.

Bellows testified alongside former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who many observers credit with flipping that state against Trump and his senatorial allies in November.

Abrams, the founder and chair of the anti-voter suppression group Fair Fight Action, pushed back against Republican arguments that it undermined local control by pointing out that historically Southern states had used local control to disenfranchise Black, young and poor voters through the use of poll taxes, subjective literary tests and other measures, and that it was the federal government that ultimately stopped them.

In her prepared remarks, Bellows also argued that Maine’s participation-enhancing electoral laws also encourage broader participation in politics generally, pointing out that she is the daughter of a carpenter and grew up in a house without electricity or running water.

“Our Senate president is a working-class logger. Maine’s speaker of the House is 28 years old, the first openly gay speaker who speaks about growing up poor, the son of a single working mom,” she told the committee. “I tell schoolchildren who used to visit the Capitol on tours before the pandemic that in Maine you can grow up to be whoever you want to be regardless of where you came from and how much money you have.”

H.R. 1, which has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote in the House, has 222 co-sponsors including both of Maine’s members, Democrats Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden, who represents the 2nd District.


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