Secretary of State Shenna Bellows asked state lawmakers on Monday to provide funding for five new positions so the state can conduct regular election audits and provide year-round training for municipal election clerks.

Maine is one of only six states that does not have a formal election auditing program and the only state controlled by Democrats that does not conduct post-election audits.

The Legislature passed a bill last year to add the positions, estimated to cost about $525,000 a year, but the bill has been sitting on the appropriations table, waiting to be funded. Bellows urged the State and Local Government Committee and the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee to recommend including the funding in the supplemental budget being negotiated in the Legislature.

“We would be very willing and eager to move forward, should the committee decide to suggest those five positions as an amendment to the budget,” Bellows told the State and Local Government committee.

Gov. Janet Mills proposed a list of spending priorities in her supplemental budget proposal, with half of the projected $822 million surplus going to rebate checks to taxpayers. But Mills also left about $12 million for lawmakers to spend on other priorities. Mills is expected to submit a change package this week, which outline plans for an additional $411 million in revenue projected through mid-2023, so that figure could increase.

A spokesperson for the governor said Mills is actively considering the election-related positions.


The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted in support of the secretary of state’s request on Monday, while the government committee is expected to vote Wednesday.

The request is aimed at protecting public trust in Maine elections and comes as election integrity is being challenged nationally. Former President Donald Trump and his supporters continue to falsely challenge the integrity of the 2020 presidential election despite a lack of credible evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud.

This session, state lawmakers have moved to strengthen a law prohibiting harassment of election workers and to prohibit partisan third-party audits of elections such as those in Colorado and Arizona.

Last week, the House approved a bill that would ban partisan audits, over unified opposition from Republicans. The bill has not yet been taken up by the Senate.

But the Legislature has yet to take up another bill that would make threatening an election worker a Class D crime, putting such crimes under the jurisdiction of the attorney general, rather than district attorneys. It would create a procedure for election workers to report threats and harassment. That bill came after state officials said they had received two reports of threats against election workers since the 2020 presidential election.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, was voted out of committee, 7-5, along party lines.


Cumberland Town Clerk Tammy O’Donnell, who is vice president of the Maine Town and City Clerks Association, said her group has been meeting frequently with the secretary of state’s office over the last two years to discuss the increased hostility and safety concerns clerks have faced due to misinformation about the 2020 presidential election. She said clerks spend a lot of time trying to correct that information, but it doesn’t always work.

“It’s just an uphill battle,” O’Donnell said. “It gets very, very frustrating. We have lost a large number of very devoted, exceptional, experienced clerks in the past two years, which is very unfortunate. I hope we don’t lose more.”


Bellows said in an interview that Maine has a history of transparent and secure elections, but there’s always room for improvement.

“One of the ways to do that is to strengthen the training we provide to municipal clerks, especially as municipal election clerks retire,” Bellows said. “The other way is to institute professional post-election audits, just like 44 states have already done.”

Maine is one of only six states without a formal post-election audit process. Other states without audits are the Republican-controlled states of Alabama, Mississippi, New Hampshire and South Dakota, along with Louisiana, which has a Democratic governor and Republican-controlled legislature.


Thirty-four states use a traditional post-election audit, which the National Conference of State Legislatures says looks at a fixed percentage of voting districts, ballots or voting machines and compares those to paper records. And 15 states have requirements, pilot programs or laws allowing for risk-limiting audits, which use statistical sampling to reduce the number of ballots being audited.

“If an audit process is in place, it can inform election officials of any bugs or errors in the system, and can act as a deterrent against fraud,” the National Conference of State Legislatures states. “Proponents of post-election audits argue that they can also help avoid a full recount by revealing when a recount is necessary to verify the correct election outcome. And, ultimately, a robust post-election audit can increase confidence in the results of an election.”

The Legislature passed the bill allowing for audits last June with bipartisan support. L.D. 1155 was sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth.

There was no roll call in the House, but Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, supported it as a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee last year. The Senate passed it unanimously, 32-0.


Bellows said the bill would add staff to allow her office to conduct two types of election audits: A process audit, where state officials would ensure that municipalities are following proper ballot and voting machine security protocols and accessibility requirements at polling locations every few years; and a post-election, “risk-limiting audit” that would use a statistical sample to verify election results.


Bellows said in an interview that details for a risk-limiting audit, if approved, would be worked out by staff. She said such audits are a “gold standard” nationally and typically involve auditing a statically valid sample of ballots from select communities and extrapolating those results to see if they’re in line with the state’s totals.

Meanwhile, the state provides a two-day training for municipal election workers each fall, but Bellows said additional staffing would be needed to fulfill clerks’ requests for more training opportunities throughout the year, especially when new clerks are hired.

Rep. Ann Matlack, D-St. George, observed similar audits while attending a conference in Colorado last fall and supports the funding. “I think it’s important that (this staffing) appear in the budget and that they not languish on the table.”

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted 7-0 Monday in support of the proposal. However, only Democratic committee members were present, and none of the five Republicans on the committee had registered their votes by Monday afternoon, the clerk said.

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