Electors representing Maine’s four electoral votes will cast their ballots Monday for president and vice president, an event that will further cement president-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
The balloting that will take place in the Maine House of Representatives is largely ceremonial, or at least it’s supposed to be.
Routine or ministerial steps in the 2020 election have taken on a melodramatic quality because of President Donald Trump’s ongoing attempts to overturn the election results. Thus far his legal efforts to reverse the outcome have failed, often spectacularly, earning terse rebukes from legal scholars and sometimes the judges his campaign attorneys have attempted to persuade.
Trump’s legal team and its allies have floated a wide range of baseless conspiracy theories and allegations of voter fraud, although many of those claims are only introduced in theatrical post-election hearings and press conferences because floating many of them in an actual court could get an attorney sanctioned by a judge.
On Thursday Trump attempted to intervene in a lawsuit brought by the state of Texas that seeks to invalidate the election results in key swing states. In addition to alleging that states violated the law by changing voting rules because of the pandemic — which the state of Texas also did — the president’s attorney argues that Texas can’t present evidence of voter fraud because the loosening of voting restrictions made voter fraud “undetectable.”
But while the president’s critics have laughed off such arguments and rolled their eyes at wild conspiracies named after mythical sea monsters, or claims that North Korean boats unloaded ballots at a Maine harbor, the campaign to overturn the election — along with Republican officials’ widespread silence or outright consent — is having a serious impact on public opinion.
This week NPR and Marist College published a poll showing that a majority of Americans believe the election results were accurate, but only a quarter of Republicans do.
CBS News analyst John Dickerson noted that those findings reinforce his view that there’s a real cost to Trump’s stolen election histrionics.
“At some point if the president continues to claim fraud and a stolen election he will be burning democratic furniture,” he said. “There will be members of his party who know better. And the danger politically for them is that in this moment, when they know better, it becomes a verdict on their careers; they knew better and they did nothing.”
Some may quibble with Dickerson’s view that Republicans will pay a price for silence or complicity. After all, some predicted that the 2020 election would wipe out the GOP because of its fealty to Trump. It didn’t happen; Republicans fared well in legislative elections (although they remain in the minority in the Maine Legislature), they narrowed the Democratic majority in the U.S. House and are poised to retain their slim majority in the U.S. Senate.
But the NPR poll shows that Dickerson is rightfully concerned for democratic institutions and public faith in elections. Republicans’ views about the accuracy of the election may be a minority opinion, but when that view is shared by the majority of the party it can influence the decisions or laws introduced by party members who hold significant positions of power.
That may be why nearly 20 Republican-controlled states have signed onto the Texas lawsuit that election law expert Rick Hasen described to NPR as “dangerous garbage, but garbage.”
On Thursday, Maine Senate Republicans asked Attorney General Aaron Frey to join the same lawsuit.
No faithless electors
According to the election results recently certified by the Maine Secretary of State, the president has 360,737 supporters in Maine.
On Monday, some of those voters, specifically those in the 2nd Congressional District, will be represented by one man, Peter LaVerdiere.
LaVerdiere is one of the four electors representing Maine’s four electoral college votes. He will join Biden’s electors — Jay Philbrick (Congressional District 1), David Bright (at large) and Sen. Shenna Bellows (at large) — in casting ballots during a pandemic-closed ceremony that will be livestreamed at 2 p.m.
Followers of the 2016 electoral college balloting may recall that Bright was an at-large elector who attempted to cast his vote for Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who handily defeated eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Maine presidential caucuses. Bright’s vote was more of a protest, and unlike in more 25 other states, he wasn’t punished for being a so-called faithless elector, a term applied to electors who defy the popular vote.
When Bright attempted to vote for Sanders he was simply ruled out of order. He eventually cast his ballot for Clinton.
The 2016 balloting was also notable because a contingent of liberal voters attempted to persuade Republican Rick Bennett to vote against the wishes of the 2nd Congressional District and cast his ballot for anyone but Trump.
Bennett ruled out that possibility well in advance.
“There’s an overwhelming sense among the communication I’m receiving that the election is not over, that I should be a faithless elector and vote against the wishes of the people,” Bennett said at the time.
To be clear, the faithless elector pressure Bennett faced is not exactly analogous to the pressure Trump has attempted to exert on Republican-controlled legislatures in Michigan and Pennsylvania to choose electors loyal to him even if the two requests — to overturn the will of voters — are essentially the same.
In the 2016 case it was liberal voters making the case even though Hillary Clinton conceded defeat the day after the election.
This year Trump continues to insist that he won while using the power of the presidency to convince Republican governors, secretaries of state, state lawmakers and even local election boards to overturn the results of the election.
Vaccine controversy, rollout
The rollout of a new vaccine for COVID-19 is expected to dominate the news next week as Maine and other states prepare for emergency authorization and distribution by the federal government.
But as with all things related to the pandemic, there’s controversy.
Earlier this week the New York Times reported that the Trump administration declined an offer from pharmaceutical company Pfizer to purchase additional doses beyond the 100 million doses included in the $1.95 billion deal between the company and the government inked over the summer.
That decision has raised questions about whether the Trump administration effectively gave up its spot to other countries awaiting the Pfizer vaccine. The company is reportedly encountering some supply chain problems as nations gear up for mass vaccination campaigns.
It also raised questions here in Maine because Gov. Janet Mills had previously expressed frustration that Maine’s allotment of the Pfizer vaccine is now a third of what it originally expected.
In a statement provided in response to questions from Maine Public, a spokeswoman for the governor stopped short of directly blaming Maine’s less-than-expected dose supply on the Trump administration’s decision to spurn Pfizer’s offer over the summer.
Spokeswoman Lindsay Crete acknowledged that Maine’s allotment was partially attributed to Pfizer’s supply chain issues, but she also noted that the federal government has extended its rollout schedule over a longer period, which might mean that the state will eventually get what it was originally promised.
“We were not aware of the Trump administration’s apparent decision not to purchase additional doses of the vaccine from Pfizer until we read the New York Times article,” Crete said. “The Governor hopes the Federal government will procure enough vaccine to immunize our entire state and our entire country as soon as possible. This state stands ready to protect its people. The Federal government needs to be a full partner in procuring sufficient quantities in a timely fashion and providing funding to the states for vaccine distribution.”
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