House Democrats on Wednesday advanced two election-related bills that supporters say would enhance ballot security statewide and improve campaign finance transparency in Maine’s largest communities.

Both bills passed along party lines, with Rep. Teresa Pierce’s bill to strengthen election integrity receiving the most debate. That bill, L.D. 1799, would tighten current ballot custody rules and expressly prohibit election clerks from turning over voting machines to a third party without authorization from the secretary of state.

The bill was inspired by dubious third party audits of the 2020 presidential election in Colorado and Arizona, where partisan actors sought to cast doubt on and overturn election results. Those states have to make significant investments to replace their voting machines.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said in an interview after the vote that her office received “numerous petitions” for Arizona-style election audits, highlighting the need to strengthen the system.

“This bill ensures that’s prohibited in Maine,” Bellows said. “It prohibits the transfer of ballots or equipment to outside entities that might manipulate or alter or interfere with ballot equipment for partisan reasons. We’ve never seen that happen here in Maine, but we have seen these attempts in other states.”

Republicans, however, said they opposed the bill because there have been no problems reported in Maine and they worried that it would take power away from election clerks and concentrate it in the Secretary of State’s Office.


“This is a bill in response to an incident that happened in Colorado, not here,” said Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, adding that the state has had ballot custody laws since the 1990’s. “This bill is duplicative and unnecessary. It does not enhance ballot security. It’s a false sense of security.”

But proponents argued that Maine is not immune to the kind of election problems happening elsewhere.

Rep. Laura Supica, D-Bangor, said she has experience working in the Secretary of State’s Office and doesn’t question election integrity here. But she still supported the bill.

“We are all aware of the shameful efforts to cast doubt not only on our democratic process but also the people who administer our elections,” Supica said. “Now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘Job well done.’  This bill is a smart step in the right direction.”

Democrats also advanced a bill that would put the state in charge of some candidate and political action committee registrations and campaign finance reports. The bill would only affect communities with 30,000 or more people, such as Portland and Lewiston, which are seeing increasingly expensive elections. Smaller communities could opt in.

Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, sponsored the bill, L.D. 1658, and said it is supported by municipal clerks. He said the change is necessary to increase transparency as national groups become increasingly involved in local elections.


Such has been the case recently in Portland, where spending on mayoral races and referendum questions has reached six figures. And the city only began posting campaign finance information online in a timely manner within the last year. Prior to that, finance reports could only be reviewed in person.

“City clerks simply do not have the requisite expertise or capacity to adequately keep track of that spending,” Lookner said. “The city clerks in Maine’s largest municipalities have asked for this help.”

Republicans, however, objected to the program’s costs, which would require $1 million to upgrade state computer systems and about $60,000 over the next two years for temporary staffing.

“This is a carveout for Portland (and) some of our bigger cities and towns,” said Rep. William Tuell, R-Calais. “I have a feeling this is the camel’s nose under the tent so to speak and before long we will have it everywhere. This is a solution in search of a problem.”

Both bills face further votes in the House and Senate.

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