Maine Secretary of State Dunlap On Issues That Could Confuse Primary Voters

Feb 18, 2020

Super Tuesday is in two weeks. It will be the first time in twenty years that Maine Democrats and Republicans will vote in a presidential primary instead of a caucus.

Twelve candidates will appear on the Democratic ballot, including several who have already ended their campaigns. On election day, at polling places, the names of those who have withdrawn from the election will be posted, and votes for them will be counted as blanks.

On the Republican ballot, President Trump is the only candidate.

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap oversees elections in Maine. On Maine Calling Tuesday with Jennifer Rooks, he acknowledged that some voters might be surprised to discover that the primary ballot does not not use ranked-choice voting.

Dunlap: So when the ranked-choice voting referendum was adopted by the voters in 2016, it didn't include the presidential races. It was only state and federal races, and we won't go through that whole history. But the legislature had to take separate action to include the presidential primary and the general election in ranked-choice voting. They did so, they adopted ranked-choice voting for the presidential primary and for the presidential general election. Governor Mills — allowed it to become law without her signature, and the technical outcome of that was that it doesn't take effect until 90 days after the adjournment of the current legislative session. So we won't use it for the March 3 primary, assuming — because there is actually a pending people's veto application, they're circulating petitions to stop this — assuming that that is not successful, then you would see it for the November election.

Rooks: Are you making predictions on turnout?

Absolutely not. No, I think I think it'll probably run along the lines of what we see in a typical primary election, which is anywhere from 15 to 20%. But it's really shooting in the dark because we haven't done an election in March before, and we've been really lucky the last couple cycles, we've had decent weather and you can't really predict decent weather this time of year. So we'll see how it plays out.

All right, the question on everybody's mind after Iowa, how confident are you, Matt Dunlap, Secretary of State, that Maine's primary will run smoothly and without any interference and be secure and fair?

Well, we've been joking around that we could use that app because they've been heavily discounted now after actually being used in Iowa. But I think realistically, we have a vast body of experience and working with a 500 plus town clerks and registrars of voters, the local election officials, I think voters can feel pretty comfortable that the election will be run smoothly with good order, with results turned over fairly quickly. We should not see any surprises. This is one of the things about the Iowa Caucus that I really have to ding them on, is that they were incredibly opaque. Nobody knew what was happening, they didn't really tell anybody what was happening. And when there's a lack of information, it adds to the level of mistrust and fear, which was really, really unnecessary. I mean, they had a glitch in their technology. That's, you know, that's normal. And if you tell people what's going on, they happen to believe you if you're being truthful.

Who can vote in the primary?

Well, any eligible voter can vote in the primary in this election cycle, but there's a couple elements. Now, if you are a registered Republican today, and you wanted to vote in the Democratic primary, it's really too late because there's a 15 day blackout period. So the parties can't stampede each other's primary nominations. But if you're an unenrolled voter, or you're not registered to vote, you can register, enroll on primary day and vote in one of the primaries. Say you're an unenrolled voter and you have no interest in the primary, but there's still something there for you, and that is the people's veto referendum which is available to all eligible voters. Even if you're not registered, you can register to vote on March 3, and you can participate in that. There's also a special election up in Brewer for the vacant House seat up there that was vacated by the passing of representative Archie Verow. And there's also some local things happening too, where towns will piggyback on this election day. So there's really something there for just about everybody.

Absentee voting is already underway. The entire conversation with Secretary of State Matt Dunlap can be found on the Maine Calling page.

Ed note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity