Signing a petition in support of a new political party, according to national polling in recent months and years, is something a disenchanted majority of Americans might be in the mood to do.

Choosing to enroll in a national political party, however, is another matter, and that distinction reportedly wasn’t made clear to some of the Mainers who this year enrolled in a multimillion-dollar effort led by a third-party group called No Labels.

Following calls to her office by municipal clerks concerned about the confusion that had been sown, Maine’s secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the head of the group.

In a statement, No Labels said in response that it had “operated under the guidelines provided by the Maine secretary of state, according to both the letter and spirit of the rules,” adding that it had “total confidence” in its “transparent engagement with Maine voters.”

The goal of No Labels is not to establish a third party with staying power, but to field a “one-time, one-ticket” candidate to run in the 2024 presidential election. The candidate has not been identified. According to leaked documents, some of the higher-profile donors courted by No Labels, a registered nonprofit that keeps its financial backers close to its chest, are billionaires who have supported Republican candidates. They reportedly include Harlan Crow, friend to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Peter Thiel, businessman and one of the biggest supporters of President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

These are pretty unstimulating times, politically, and there is a good chance that the vast majority of the more than 6,000 Maine voters who signed on to this relatively amorphous proposition knew what they were doing.


As former state Sen. Dick Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth who has been involved with No Labels for years, told this newspaper: “As somebody who thinks our two-party system – at least the way it’s playing out in America now – is completely dysfunctional … to give someone who is profoundly frustrated another place to go seems like something worth supporting.”

On top of that, Mainers have time and again proved themselves willing and able to buck party-line devotion.

But it’s also the case that widespread dismay over dysfunction in U.S. politics offers very fertile ground for exploitation. And that the course of the 2024 election is already being vigorously plotted out and bitterly fought.

“If ever the country was ripe for something completely different, it’s now,” New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote of No Labels’ efforts back in September.

If something completely different involves even one voter being misled, count us out.

To those who look upon Bellows’ decision to intervene as heavy-handed, we would counter that now is a fine time for comprehensive intervention where any questions about impropriety arise.

What’s there to lose? If signatories who receive the letter from Bellows’ office understood they were enrolling in a third party, then the letter can be recycled without a second thought. In the event a signature was granted to a zealous signature-gatherer without the full picture, then the letter gives a voter an opportunity to set things right that they may not otherwise have had.

Protecting the integrity of elections is the job of the Office of the Secretary of State. Bellows has asked municipal clerks to supply her office with more information about voters’ confusion in order to determine whether or not an investigation is warranted.

Based on what we’ve seen play out in other states, it won’t be. But in what Bellow correctly characterized as “an era of disinformation and malinformation,” these are the prudent steps that ought to be taken.

Comments are no longer available on this story