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Lawmakers endorse a bill that would create stiffer penalties for harassing election clerks

Election 2021 Maine
Robert F. Bukaty
Election workers Sheila McDonough, left, and Kathleen Reid chat while waiting for voters at the American Legion Post 35 poling place, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in South Portland, Maine.

Threats made against Maine election clerks could come with stiffer penalties and involvement from the state attorney general following a vote by a legislative committee Monday.

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted unanimously to approve a bill that would make the intentional interference, intimidation or violence against a municipal election official a Class D crime, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine.

The proposal was backed by the Maine Town Clerks' Association and individual election officials who told the committee last month that they have witnessed increasing harassment and hostility directed at election procedures.

In some cases, they said, people have expressed distrust in how ballots are counted and alleged fraud.

The bill approved by the committee was amended to reduce the proposed crime from a Class C felony to a misdemeanor after defense attorneys and the Maine ACLU warned that it went too far.

But the committee did add the crime to the list of offenses that can be prosecuted under state election law, which would involve the Office of Attorney General.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows says that moving threats against clerks into that part of the law "gives it a statewide importance and focus that by necessity, one hopes, will influence the prosecution, particularly depending on the circumstance if it's a disruption in the polling place."

The change also puts election clerk threats in the same category as voter or election fraud.

Efforts to crackdown on intimidation, harassment and threats have proliferated nationwide since the 2020 election.

The proposal now moves to the full Legislature for final votes.