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LePage claims out-of-staters stuffed ballot boxes — but 2 secretaries of state say it's impossible

Former Gov. Paul LePage (right) poses for a photo with a supporter at a campaign rally held by Eric Trump for his father, President Donald Trump, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Saco, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
Former Gov. Paul LePage (right) poses for a photo with a supporter at a campaign rally held by Eric Trump for his father, President Donald Trump, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Saco, Maine.

Last week former Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage made the unsubstantiated claim that people from Massachusetts were bused in to vote in the 2009 referendum over Maine's same-sex marriage law.

He provided no evidence, and state election officials say the claim is demonstrably false. But the former governor's assertion fits a pattern of baseless voter fraud allegations now often used by Republicans to pass new voting requirements or restrictions.

LePage is running for a third, nonconsecutive term this year, and his advisors have attempted to rebrand him as less combative and less willing to use exaggerated or baseless claims to advance his political agenda.

But during half an hour of remarks at a campaign event for GOP legislative candidates in Auburn last week, LePage added fresh allegations to an oft-used voter fraud canard.

"I have met some people — not in 2020, but it was during the gay marriage referendum from years back — came up on a bus from Massachusetts," he said. "I was the mayor at the time. They stayed at a hotel in Waterville overnight, voted and left the next day."

LePage went on to say that he met the out-of-staters at a local Waterville watering hole.

"In fact, that evening they were at You Know Whose Pub and they were having beers and talking about it," he said. "The secretary of state was notified. Not a thing was done."

"Never crossed my desk," said Matt Dunlap, a Democrat who served as secretary of state between 2005 and 2011, and again from 2013 through last year.

Dunlap says state officials would have immediately responded to complaints of ballot stuffing by out-of-state voters. And he says pulling off such a crime is next to impossible.

"What this presupposes is that people can walk in off the street and get a ballot and vote," he said. "And that's just not the case. It's never been the case."

Current Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, agrees. She says an out-of-stater attempting to vote here would first need to register, and to do that would have to show proof of identity and residency.

"If for any reason a clerk or warden has a question about your proof of identity or residency, your ballot is automatically challenged and set aside as a challenged ballot," she said.

In addition, Bellows says, voters have to provide their name when they arrive at the polls so that election workers can check them off the voter participation list.

State law requires poll workers from both political parties to be there, and so, if a group of people arrived who were not on the voter list, that would raise serious red flags.

And Bellows says the checks and balances continue even after ballots are cast.

"When the ballots are tabulated, the number of ballots is matched against the number of people that were recorded on the voter participation list. Then, in the days following the election, the municipal clerks take every single name on that list and enter it into the central voter registration system," she says.

Bellows says state officials then comb through the central voter list to check for duplicate names, votes or anything that might signal fraudulent voting.

"That's why if you vote twice in Maine, you will be caught and you will be prosecuted," she said.

Bellows also refuted LePage's insinuation that fraud was possible in 2020 because 163,000 names on Maine's active voter rolls did not have active drivers licenses.

She says those people still had to provide identification to register and that some may have allowed their license to lapse for one reason or another.

Bellows says many could have been senior citizens, which is one reason why she and other Democrats are concerned about efforts to pass laws that require voter ID.

And that’s exactly what LePage was pitching in Auburn last week.

"I think (photo ID) is the issue," he said.

This issue of voter fraud appears to animate GOP voters. Polls show they believe former President Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and that has prompted GOP controlled Legislatures to pass limits on voting or tougher ID requirements.

Whether that sentiment is driving LePage's fraud allegations as he campaigns to unseat Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is unclear.

His campaign did not respond to a request for an interview.

And LePage only briefly addressed his claims when asked about them by New England Cable News in Boston earlier this week.

"Do you actually think people were bussed in from Massachusetts to vote in Maine?" a reporter asked.

"I don't know. That's ancient history. I will tell you what I think about that question. It's like a reporter getting to an accident after it's happened. You don't see it. You've never seen the accident. I will tell you, you were not there. I was," LePage said.

The issue, he said, is voter ID.

And he's sending clear signals that he'll pursue such a requirement if he and Republicans are victorious in November.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.