About 800 Maine voters have rescinded their enrollment in an aspiring national political party after signing what they mistakenly believed was a standard citizen petition.

But despite the exodus, No Labels still appears to have enough signatures to qualify for the Maine ballot in next year’s presidential election.

Records reviewed by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram show how voters and municipal clerks were alarmed by No Label’s signature-gathering tactics last spring, saying the group’s representatives were misleading voters and not making clear that signing the paperwork meant they would be enrolled in the party. The complaints prompted Maine’s secretary of state to notify voters who signed the papers about the confusion and send organizers a letter demanding they stop misrepresenting their registration drive as a petition.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows notified voters who signed the papers about the confusion and sent No Labels organizers a letter demanding they stop misrepresenting their registration drive as a petition. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal, file

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said in an interview Friday that her letters seem to have helped clear up confusion and that No Labels has since taken steps to make sure voters understand what they were signing.

“Certainly, I continue to hear complaints from time to time by voters who feel they were misled. At the same time, I do believe that No Labels made some good-faith efforts to clarify what they were doing to members of the public,” she said.

Organizers for No Labels declined an interview request Friday but issued written statements in response to a series of questions sent via email.


State co-chairman Justin Schair said organizers are having “clear and sincere engagement” with voters, and petitioners are wearing T-shirts to remind voters they are not signing a petition.

“We are following the guidance of the state of Maine’s official party registration cards and identifying the document as ‘Maine Voter Registration Application,’ in big bold type,” Schair said. “Our circulators are wearing t-shirts with a clear message, ‘Not a Petition,’ printed on them. We have over 6,000 Maine citizens registered as No Labels party members. We have clear and sincere engagement, dedicated to giving Maine citizens the voice and choice they seek in 2024.”

Bellows acknowledged the effort. “That was certainly a positive step forward, and we appreciate any efforts that have been made to clarify they are engaged in enrolling new voters,” she said.

No Labels is campaigning to gain access to the 2024 presidential ballot in all 50 states in preparation for a potential third-party candidate. So far, they have qualified for the ballot in 10 states, although Arizona Democrats are challenging their status in court.

No Labels, which plans to raise $70 million for its 2024 campaign, has not identified a presidential candidate and may not enter one in the 2024 contest even if it qualifies. Organizers describe their effort as “an insurance policy” in case the major political parties nominate two unfavorable candidates.

Bellows sent No Labels a cease-and-desist letter on May 11, directing organizers to stop describing their forms as petitions and be clear that voters were changing their party affiliation.


Bellows also sent letters to nearly 7,000 people who had changed their party affiliations and enrolled in the No Labels party. That letter urged voters to know what they were signing and explained the rules for unenrolling with No Labels and re-registering with their preferred political party if they wanted to.

A lawyer representing No Labels immediately responded to Bellows, denying wrongdoing and emphasizing that the form being circulated by petitioners clearly states that it is a voter registration form and requires the voter to check the No Label’s box as the party of enrollment.

“No Labels is not aware of any circumstance where one of its organizers told a voter that they were merely signing a ‘petition,’ ” the attorney wrote. “Nonetheless, No Labels will promptly reiterate its prior instructions to all organizers and immediately correct any deviation from those instructions. If you are indeed aware of any actual instance of an organizer misstating the purpose of No Labels’ effort, please provide that information, and the organizer will be dismissed.”

Bellows’ actions also drew strong criticism from supporters of the third-party effort.

Lieberman-2006 Election

Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat and founding chairman of No Labels, has called Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ actions voter intimidation. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press, file

Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat and founding chairman of No Labels, took Bellows to task in the Press Herald’s opinion pages, writing that they had not received any specific information about organizers misleading voters and calling her actions voter intimidation.

“The point is, though, that the secretary of state acted in a way that unnecessarily intimidated thousands of Maine voters,” Lieberman said.


No Labels leaders criticized the outreach to voters as partisan interference, including in fundraising appeals.

In an email to supporters on May 12, No Labels said Bellows had sent “an intimidating letter to all 6,500 of our new members on her official letterhead, which she promptly leaked to the press.” It said her letter was based on “nothing more than vague third-hand rumors of ‘voter confusion.’ ”

“We knew when we started this journey the powers that be would use every tool at their disposal to try and stop us from getting ballot access,” the group said. “Intimidating everyday citizens who want to have more choice on the ballot is undemocratic, full stop. But rest assured, this anti-democratic behavior on the part of elected officials will only make us stronger in the end.”

Bellows, however, said her letters were meant to educate voters and petitioners about their rights and responsibilities under state law. A spokesperson said the office did not receive any names of organizers to send to No Labels.

Documents provided by the secretary of state’s office last week show Bellows decided to respond after her office had been hearing for months about voters saying they were misled or confused. More than 1,000 pages of documents compiled in response to a public records request from No Labels and reviewed by the Press Herald detail the widespread concerns from municipal clerks across the state and how state officials reacted.

No Labels leaders did not directly respond to a question about how they view the state’s actions in light of the public documents they received on Aug. 11.


Municipal clerks began raising questions about the No Labels registration drive in February.

Clerks who receive updated voter registration forms, such as those used by No Labels, follow up by sending a letter to the voter either confirming their enrollment or explaining why it was denied for reasons including a lack of information. Some confused voters responded by claiming they were told they were signing a petition, like those circulated when activists are seeking a statewide referendum, rather than changing their enrollment.

Clerks alerted state elections staff and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn. They reported specific cases of voter confusion, in some cases providing names, phone numbers, voter identification numbers, and signed statements from confused voters to the secretary of state. They did not include information about specific organizers.

As reports continued, Bellows eventually decided in April that letters should be sent to voters and to No Labels about what had transpired and the proper rules and procedures.

Bellows first expressed the idea in an email thread that began with an official in western Maine saying voters complained about overly aggressive petitioners.

“Both citizens were very upset because they feel as though they were taken advantage of and signed this under pretenses,” West Paris Town Manager Joy Downing wrote on April 11. “The Petitioner would grab the citizens as they are coming out of Sam’s Club and forcing them into signing this form. (One) of the citizens said that the Petitioner would not leave him alone and it was cold and windy that day and he just wanted him to go away.”


“I really think we need to get a warning letter out to the towns,” Bellows wrote the next day. “I’m concerned about this effort.”

After a series of internal meetings, the office issued a letter to people registered in No Labels in early May.

The letter explained the process for forming a new political party. It also told people who did not intend to enroll in No Labels that they needed to wait three months before switching their registration again and that they should contact the office if they believe they were misled.

Bellows’ letter also said people who had intended to register with No Labels didn’t need to do anything.

By the end of August, 798 of the 6,953 people who received letters from Bellows about the confusion formally unenrolled from No Labels.

Bellows on Friday pushed back against any suggestion that she was motivated by partisan politics.


“Partisan attacks are the nature of the business,” she said. “Our job in the elections division is to run a free, fair, and secure election. … Partisan considerations can’t be any part of that.”

Since the end of August, an additional 454 people have enrolled in the party, giving No Labels a total of 6,609 enrolled Maine members as of Sept. 14, according to the secretary of state’s office. That’s far more than the 5,000 enrollees required to qualify for the ballot.

To formally qualify, No Labels must apply by Jan. 2. Organizers had not done so as of Friday and did not directly respond to questions via email about when or whether they planned to apply.

“The warm reception we have received from the people of Maine gives us confidence they we will be able to successfully realize their vision to have a third choice on the ballot in 2024,” former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, No Labels’ director of ballot integrity, said in a written statement.

Election 2024 No Labels

Supporters of the No Labels political group take part in a rally on Capitol Hill in July 2011. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press, file

Founded in 2010 by Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson, No Labels has been supported by Lieberman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others. But the Daily Beast and the New Republic cited internal documents as showing donations from Republican megadonors like David Koch, Peter Thiel, and Harlan Crow, prompting suspicion among Democrats.

Some pundits predict that a third-party candidate running under No Labels would hurt Democrats more than Republicans. The 2024 presidential election is expected to be a close contest between President Biden and former President Donald Trump, and Democrats worry that a third-party candidate would draw votes from Biden and put Trump over the top.

However the influence of a third-party candidate would be less pronounced in Maine because of ranked-choice voting. That process allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. The candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated in an instant runoff, and the second choices on those ballots are allocated to the remaining candidates until someone wins more than 50%.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story