Thursday, December 28, 2023

Maine Secretary of State Decision in Challenge to Trump Presidential Primary Petitions

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows issued the attached decision regarding three challenges brought by Maine voters to the nomination petition of Donald J. Trump, for the Republican primary for the President of the United States.

The Secretary of State’s Office received three challenges to the nomination of Mr. Trump, each filed under 21-A M.R.S.     336 and 337.

In the first challenge, Mary Ann Royal of Winterport alleged that Mr. Trump violated his oath of office because he engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States or has given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. In the second challenge, Paul Gordon of Portland argued that because Mr. Trump has expressly stated that he won the 2020 election, he is barred from office under the Twenty-Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which sets a two-term limit on Presidents. In the third challenge, Kimberly Rosen a former Republican State Senator from Bucksport, Thomas Saviello, a former Republican State Senator from Wilton and Ethan Strimling, a former Democratic State Senator from Portland collectively contend that Mr. Trump is barred from office because he engaged in insurrection as defined by Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A consolidated hearing was held at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, December 15 in Augusta. The hearing was livestreamed to the Department’s YouTube and is still available to view online.

As detailed in the decision, Secretary Bellows concluded that Mr. Trump’s primary petition is invalid. Specifically, the Secretary ruled that the declaration on his candidate consent form is false because he is not qualified to hold the office of the President under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In the decision, Secretary Bellows said,

“I conclude… that the record establishes that Mr. Trump, over the course of several months and culminating on January 6, 2021, used a false narrative of election fraud to inflame his supporters and direct them to the Capitol to prevent certification of the 2020 election and the peaceful transfer of power.  I likewise conclude that Mr. Trump was aware of the likelihood for violence and at least initially supported its use given he both encouraged it with incendiary rhetoric and took no timely action to stop it.

“Mr. Trump’s occasional requests that rioters be peaceful and support law enforcement do not immunize his actions.  A brief call to obey the law does not erase conduct over the course of months, culminating in his speech on the Ellipse.  The weight of the evidence makes clear that Mr. Trump was aware of the tinder laid by his multi-month effort to delegitimize a democratic election, and then chose to light a match.”

On the Gordon challenge, Secretary Bellows said, “There appears to be no dispute between any of the parties that President Biden prevailed over Mr. Trump.  Therefore, given Mr. Trump has only won a single election for President, he is not barred from being elected to the same office again under the Twenty-Second Amendment.”

Secretary Bellows concludes the decision saying:

“I do not reach this conclusion lightly. Democracy is sacred… I am mindful that no Secretary of State has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment. I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection. The oath I swore to uphold the Constitution comes first above all, and my duty under Maine’s election laws, when presented with a Section 336 challenge, is to ensure that candidates who appear on the primary ballot are qualified for the office they seek.

“The events of January 6, 2021 were unprecedented and tragic. They were an attack not only upon the Capitol and government officials, but also an attack on the rule of law.  The evidence here demonstrates that they occurred at the behest of, and with the knowledge and support of, the outgoing President. The U.S. Constitution does not tolerate an assault on the foundations of our government, and Section 336 requires me to act in response.”

The challenger or candidate may appeal this decision by commencing an action in the Superior Court within five days of this date, pursuant to 21-A MRSA section 337, subsection 2, paragraph D.

Given the compressed timeframe, the novel constitutional questions involved, the importance of this case, and impending ballot preparation deadlines, Secretary Bellows has suspended the effect of her decision until the Superior Court rules on any appeal, or the time to appeal has expired.

A copy of the decision is here.