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Bill would ban ballot drop boxes in Maine

A ballot and voting drop box are in Rutherford, New Jersey, on Friday, October 21, 2022.
Ted Shaffrey
A ballot and voting drop box are in Rutherford, New Jersey, on Friday, October 21, 2022.

State and local election officials on Wednesday challenged a proposal to outlaw ballot drop boxes used by the majority of Maine's nearly 500 municipalities in the last election.

The proposal by state Sen. Eric Brakey, a Republican from Auburn, would join Maine with the roughly dozen states that have banned ballot drop boxes since 2020. Popularized during the pandemic, the drop boxes are an alleged conduit for fraudulent voting — claims that have been widely disproven.

In testimony before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, Brakey described drop ballot boxes as less secure than in-person voting. He framed his bill as an effort to restore voter confidence.

His assertions were contested by civic engagement groups, the association representing local election clerks and deputy Secretary of State Joann Bautista. They explained that drop boxes are often bolted to the ground or attached to municipal buildings and the ballots in them routinely collected and checked against local voter rolls before being counted.

Brakey also suggested that the drop boxes in Maine were funded by an organization partially financed by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. But Bautista described that as "patently false" because drop box distribution is a state-funded initiative done in conjunction with municipalities.

"And so I just wanted to get on record that the funding of these absentee ballot drop boxes is not from a nefarious source in any way, shape or form," Bautista said.

The Center for Tech and Civic Life organization has been repeatedly drawn into the national debate over election security because of one of its funders, Zuckerberg, and his personal donations to liberal candidates and causes.

Maine Senate Republicans recently highlighted donations from the nonprofit to Maine municipalities, arguing that the so-called "Zuckerbucks" skewed to liberal strongholds like Portland.

According to the organization's tax filings, more than 200 Maine towns received funding from the organization for election administration in 2020, including Republican and Democratic-leaning towns.

— This story was updated at 7:49 p.m. to clarify that Mark Zuckerberg helped finance The Center for Tech and Civic Life, but did not found it.

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