After winning two elections, LePage said voting system in Maine is illegitimate

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage has joined Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in calling elections in Maine and the United States illegitimate.

During his weekly Tuesday morning phone chat on WVOM radio, LePage said that as long as Maine doesn’t require voters to provide identification, the system cannot be trusted.

“I am not confident that we are going to have a clean election in Maine,” said LePage in response to a question from the hosts, who introduced it by noting that LePage has won two statewide elections under the same system he now questions. “The Democratic Party insists on not having IDs. Will people from the cemetery be voting? Yes, all around the country. The media and the Democratic Party want everyone to vote, whether they’re citizens or not.”

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap wrote Tuesday morning in response to questions from the Bangor Daily News that voter identification is a “political issue.” In Maine, voters must show identification to register but not to obtain a ballot.

“I can enumerate safeguards that govern the process of conducting elections,” he wrote.

Trump’s claims that the United States election system is flawed or “rigged” against him have been escalating as the candidate’s support in the polls has eroded in recent weeks. Trump addressed the issue Saturday during his visit to Bangor but focused on the media’s coverage of his comments.

“The election is being rigged by corrupt media pushing completely false allegations and outright lies in an effort to elect her president,” said Trump, who was also caught on tape during a private Q&A with Mainers saying the women accusing him of sexual misconduct are liars.   

Republicans in the Maine Legislature have tried several times in recent years, including in 2015, to require voters to provide identification at the polls but those efforts have failed. At least 31 states require some form of photo identification to be presented at the polls, although federal courts have recently issued several rulings against states’ efforts to toughen voter identification rules.

In those cases, judges found no credible evidence of voter fraud. In a ruling that struck down a North Dakota law designed to create new barriers at polling places, a federal judge wrote: “The undisputed evidence before the Court reveals that voter fraud in North Dakota has been virtually non-existent.”

Past claims by Maine Republicans, notably former party chairman Charlie Webster’s 2012 assertion that “dozens of black people” who were unfamiliar to local election clerks had cast ballots in Maine, have yielded no convictions. A commission impaneled by former Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers and led by retired judge John Atwood found no evidence of voter fraud and recommended against stricter voter ID laws in 2012.

As recently as Monday, Dunlap explained why voter fraud on the scale that LePage and Trump suggest would be highly improbable, given the prevalence of paper ballots in Maine and the scrutiny that local officials who are familiar with their localities apply to the process.

But Dunlap is a Democrat, which apparently makes him suspect in LePage’s perception of the electoral process. As he has on other issues, LePage apparently based his suspicions about the integrity of a statewide system that has elected him twice on anecdotes and a guiding but generally unfounded principle that Democrats are “crooked.”

“Maine has a proud history of full access for voters to participate in our elections,” Dunlap wrote Tuesday. “It’s curious that the governor would question the integrity of a system under which he was elected twice.”

Democrats have continued to make the case that voter ID laws provide a solution to problems that don’t exist.

“The majority of us didn’t feel it would be appropriate to place a hurdle in front of someone’s fundamental and constitutional right to vote,” argued Democratic Rep. Louis Luchini of Ellsworth during floor debate in 2015.

Noting that polls increasingly show that Trump support has leveled out at far below 50 percent, some political observers assert that his new emphasis on unproven election fraud constitutes an effort to suppress the vote, creating a path to Electoral College victory.

On a separate topic, LePage trashed the Maine media for what he said was a refusal to cover a story about the Ahram Halal Market in Portland, which is under investigation for welfare fraud that allegedly involved the conversion of food stamp benefits into cash.

“We’ve been trying to work with the Maine media to get it out to the people but they have just refused to do it,” said LePage. “If I didn’t know better I’d say they’re complicit in this fraud.”

LePage said his communications staff have been talking to “reporters in Augusta … for months” about the issue.

To set the record straight: No one has ever approached the Bangor Daily News about this story and my colleague at the Portland Press Herald, Scott Thistle, said the same when we spoke this morning.

More setting the record straight: LePage also complained that he had received no coverage for being named among the most fiscally responsible governors in the country by the Libertarian Cato institute and suggested that it’s because of a media conspiracy against him. Readers of the Daily Brief might remember when we reported that on Oct. 6. A BDN blogger also wrote about it just yesterday. We also reported on Cato’s rankings in 2014, when LePage was ranked third most fiscally responsible governor.

There are more examples — fire up Google if you have doubts — but I think you get the picture. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Money pours into CD2 race: The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is dedicated to protecting the Republican majority in Congress, announced Monday that it is increasing its spending in the 2nd Congressional District by $500,000. That means the group’s total spending in the race between Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Emily Cain will reach some $1.1 million in the final two weeks of the campaign.
  • Service members’ degrees for free: Earlier this year, the Legislature and Gov. LePage enacted a bill that provided tuition waivers for members of the Maine National Guard at Maine’s public higher-education institutions. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock — both of whom have served in the National Guard — co-sponsored the bill. According to Fredette’s office 134 Guard member are taking advantage of the program just six months after its creation. The students are spread across Maine’s universities and community college system with the highest number, 54, taking classes at University of Maine at Orono.
  • George Mitchell for Hillary: Former Democratic U.S. Sen. George Mitchell of Maine will stump for Hillary Clinton for president today in Lewiston. Mitchell will appear at 2:30 p.m. at the Franco American Heritage Center at 46 Cedar St. and will work with volunteers at a phone bank beginning at 4:30 p.m. at the Democratic Coordinated Campaign Office at 124 Lisbon St.
  • Cluster of senators: Is a group of senators called a flock, or a pride, or a school? I don’t know. Anyway, Maine’s five most recent U.S. senators — William Cohen, George Mitchell, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Angus King — will gather for a discussion of their careers at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner on Oct. 28 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. The discussion will be moderated by CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood.

Reading list

My potato knowledge has improved

On Friday I discussed here in the Daily Brief how terrifying it was trying to buy “new potatoes” during a trip to The County last week.

First, a follow-up on my own idiocy: When I got home with my bag of new russets, I noticed something troubling: They’d been bagged in Avon, Mass., which was supremely disappointing after having spent three days in Maine’s potato country. I will say they were tasty, though. My family and I had them mashed — though in this house we called the Massed Potatoes — with pot roast on Sunday and again last night. That goes against the advice of one Daily Brief reader who insists russets are best baked with “lots of butter and sour cream and sprinkle a little chive or onion bits just for added flavor.”

This tip is appreciated. We saved some spuds to bake later this week.

In one of my prouder moments as a journalist, I also heard from the Maine Potato Board, which among other things cleared up the mystery of what a “new potato” is:

“‘New’ potatoes are available throughout Aroostook County during mid-July through mid-October, with really small ones (1 1/2 inch) being the earliest. People will pay any price for that first five pound bag of new potatoes!  They are available at roadside stands and farmers’ markets.”

The Maine Potato Board, apparently in cahoots with the green bean lobby, suggests cooking the two vegetables together and serving them with cream and butter, which sounds delicious. The board also sent descriptions of Norlands potatoes, russets, Yukon golds and fingerlings. On my next trip to The County, I’ll be prepared. Here’s my soundtrack.

The board said it is mailing me a sample of some Caribou Russets, a new variety of Maine potato that will debut next month at the Maine Harvest Festival in Bangor. I didn’t ask for them but I’ll enjoy them and report back here after I do. — Christopher Cousins



Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.