Election

Governor Mills signs a full slate of election, campaign finance reforms into law

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Governor Mills recently signed into law several bills that affect campaigns and elections in the state of Maine.

L.D. 1363: An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Elections

L.D. 1363 makes several changes to the use of ranked-choice voting and absentee ballots in Maine elections.

The bill expands the type of elections using ranked-choice voting. Previously, ranked-choice voting was used in primary elections for United States Senators, United States Representatives to the House, the governor, state senators, and state representatives or general or special elections for U.S. Senators and Representatives. The new law also uses ranked-choice voting in general elections for presidential electors and primary elections for president. Ranked-choice voting is used in elections with three or more candidates, or elections with two candidates and one for more declared write-in candidates.

It allows the order of office printed on a ballot to be modified so that ranked-choice contests can be printed on separate sides of the ballot from non-ranked-choice contests. It also changes the rules by which batch eliminations can be used to remove candidates in ranked-choice voting races. For presidential primaries, batch elimination cannot be used for candidates with more than 100 votes. Tabulation must be used until only 2 candidates remain. And separate tabulations must be conducted statewide and for each congressional district.

The bill requires that after presidential electors are chosen, the governor send a certificate containing the names of the electors, the number of votes each presidential candidate received statewide and the number of voters for each congressional district received in the final round of tabulation used under ranked-choice voting to the Archivist of the United states.

Other measures in the bill include changes to a requirement that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles scan documentation that will be used to create a pending voter registration record for an individual who hasn’t opted out of automatic voter registration and applies for a license of state-issued identification card. Instead, L.D. 1363 requires the Bureau to record the information of anyone applying for, updating or renewing a license or state ID and store it into a pending voter registration record, unless that individual opts out.

It also allows voters who have an alternative registration signature statement on file with their municipal registrar to authorize any other Maine-registered voter to sign a candidate’s petition, direct initiative of legislation petition, people’s veto petition or any Maine Clean Election Act form on their behalf, in the presence of and at the direction of that voter. The individual assisting the voter cannot be a candidate, the circulator of the petition, the voter’s employer or an officer of the voter’s union. The individual signing on behalf of the voter must print their own name and residence on the petition or form and swear they are signing on the voter’s behalf.

The law also changes the maximum number of signatures a candidate for certain offices must file in order to gain ballot access

L.D. 1363 changes the date by which parties must inform the secretary of state whether there will be a contest for their presidential nomination, from November 1 to October 1 of the year prior to the presidential election. It also moves forward the date by which the secretary of state must prepare and make available petitions for those wishing to be candidates in state presidential primaries, from November 1 to October 1. Petitions have to be delivered to the registrar, or to the clerk in the registrar’s absence, for certification by 5 p.m. on November 20 the year prior to the presidential election. They must be completed and filed with the secretary of state no later than 5 p.m. on December 21 the year prior to a presidential election.

The law also allows residents of a municipality who are 16-years-old and conditionally registered to vote to serve as election clerks. 

L.D. 1363 also makes several changes to the way absentee ballot drop boxes are used. It allows a municipality to obtain a drop box for absentee ballots for use outside a municipal office building. Municipalities may use more than one drop box, but these must be approved by the secretary of state. They must submit certification that additional drop boxes meet requirements to the secretary of state at least 90 days before the election.

Drop boxes must be secured and either be monitored by law enforcement, municipal staff, or a surveillance camera. They must  be clearly labeled as absentee ballot drop boxes. They must have a slot or chute into which voters can drop their ballot, but which passersby cannot reach into to remove ballots. Absentee ballots must be retrieved, at minimum, once each day the municipal clerk’s staff is working in the office. Retrieval of ballots must be logged by the clerk’s staff. 

On election night, the clerk or the clerk’s staff must arrive at the drop box just prior to 8 p.m., remove deposited ballots at 8 p.m. and lock the deposit slot of the ballot box so no additional ballots can be deposited after the deadline to return ballots.

The new law clarifies that candidates cannot be issued any absentee ballot except for their own.

The law also provides voters an opportunity to cure defects in their absentee ballots. Voters must provide their phone and email address. It also changes the requirements for requests by absentee ballots made on the phone or by electronic means, removing the requirement of a signature, and creates a procedure for a clerk to follow to examine returned absentee ballots and fix any defects that are found, as well as a procedure for marking rejected absentee ballots. It also directs the secretary of state to create an online service allowing absentee voters to track the status of their ballots.

L.D. 1417: An Act Regarding Campaign Finance Reform

L.D. 1417 is one of several recently signed bills that reform Maine’s campaign finance laws.

For the purpose of campaign finance, the bill describes business entities as either a firm, partnership, incorporated association, labor or other organization organized as a for-profit or nonprofit entity. It uses the phrase “separate segregated fund committee” to describe a political action committee that functions as a separate or segregated fund and is established to influence or initiate a campaign by a corporation, membership organization, or a cooperative or labor organization. It bans separate segregated fund committees from accepting individual donations that exceed $5,000 in a calendar year. It also bans separate segregated fund committees from accepting contributions from business entities, but allows a corporation that established a separate segregated fund committee to provide the use of offices and equipment if it does not result in additional costs.

The bill also defines a leadership political action committee as a political action committee (PAC) that was established by a current member of the Legislature or that is directly or indirectly controlled or maintained by a current member of the Legislature. It bans business entities from making contributions to leadership PACs and limits the contributions that can be made to leadership PACs by party committees, leadership PACs, separate segregated fund committees, caucus PACs, or other PACs.

The law also prohibits business entities from making contributions to candidates.

L.D. 1621: An Act To Reform Payments to Legislators by Political Action Committees

L.D. 1621 also impacts campaign finance law by changing the payments legislators can make to PACs or ballot question committees in which they are involved.

If a legislator is the principal officer or treasurer of a PAC or ballot question committee, that committee cannot compensate the legislator or immediate family members for the services they provide. The committee also cannot make payments to or in any other way compensate a business owned by the legislator or an immediate family member of the legislator. 

The law also prohibits a committee from making payments to or reimbursing the legislator or their family for any expenses found by the Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices to be for the purpose of personal financial enrichment. 

The law also creates new rules for how a legislator may be reimbursed for travel expenses. A legislator can be reimbursed in mileage for expenses incurred while he or she was performing their legislative duties or for expenses incurred while volunteering for the committee, so long as the legislator is using his or her own vehicle. The committee cannot pay for the costs of repairing or maintaining that vehicle.

The committee also cannot reimburse a legislator for expenses that have already been reimbursed by the legislature or any other source. The committee’s funds cannot be commingled with the personal funds of a legislator, or with the funds of a business owned by the legislator or any other person. 

If the committee or a legislator violates these rules, the committee can be assessed a fine up to $500 or the amount of the impermissible payment, whichever is greater.

L.D. 1575: An Act To Improve Maine’s Election Laws

L.D. 1575 makes several minor changes to election law. 

The law allows students who are registering to vote to use student photo identification cards from state-approved public or private schools to verify their identity. 

It also directs the secretary of state to prepare instructions for absentee voter applications that describe the reason a voter can request and receive an absentee ballot after the no-excuse absentee voting period has ended. The law requires municipalities to include this message on a sign posted at the municipal office and on any website, social media page or other medium the municipality uses to communicate election information to its residents. 

It also requires the municipal clerk to add information about the location of absentee ballot drop boxes and the hours in-person absentee voting is being conducted in a report filed with the secretary of state at least 60 days before an election. 

The law authorizes the secretary of state to adopt rules governing pollwatchers, party workers and others present in the polling place. It also stipulates that absentee ballots cannot be counted until after all polls have closed on election day, all ballots have been cast and and all absentee ballots have been processed. 

L.D. 1485: An Act to Modify the Requirements for Political Action Committees and Ballot Question Committees

L.D. 1485 makes changes to the laws governing the registration of PACs and ballot question committees and also changes some financial reporting requirements.

It updates some of the technical rules related to filing and reporting deadlines for PACs and ballot question committees, as well as redefines the meaning of a PAC by lowering the amount of money spent or received by a corporation or organization with the intent of influencing an election. 

The law creates a requirement for a PAC or ballot question committee to establish a campaign account in a bank or other financial institution separate from the other financial accounts of the person who created the PAC or ballot question committee. It also amends the definition of “contribution” and “expenditure” to include all funds deposited into a campaign account and all payments made from a campaign account. Payments made to start a citizen’s initiative or people’s veto referendum before applying to the secretary of state to initiate the question are exempt from the definition of “expenditure.”

The bill also imposes a $100,000 limit on the exemption for organizations that pay for services and contribute those services to PACs, ballot question committees, party committees and candidates. 

L.D. 1377: An Act Regarding Campaign Finance Disclosure and the Filing of Statements of Sources of Income

L.D. 1377 makes changes to the laws governing the disclosure of personal sources of income, reporting campaign finance information, and participation in the Maine Clean Election Act.

The law changes the deadline for legislative candidates to file a statement of their sources of personal income from the first Monday in August to August 15th. It also eliminates a duplicate requirement for appointed and elected executive officials to disclose their positions in corporations or on boards of directors in their statements on sources of income.

It expands the type of independent expenditure communications that must include the top 3 funds of the communication’s sponsor to include video communication posted to the Internet. 

The law also states that any legislative or gubernatorial candidate who has accepted contributions not in compliance with the Maine Clean Election Act’s seed money restrictions cannot be certified as a candidate under that law within the same election cycle.

L.D. 916: An Act To Protect Data Privacy and Security in Elections

L.D. 916 makes changes to the laws that govern how voter information can be accessed from the state’s central voter registration system. 

The law prohibits political parties, individuals, or organizations involved in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts, or other efforts directly related to a campaign from releasing any specifically identifiable voter information to the general public when they access the state’s central voter registration system. The same prohibition applies to municipal, county, state, or federal office holders. 

The law further prohibits anyone who accesses or obtains voter information from using it to engage in discriminationon the basis of physical or mental ability, race, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, ancestry, or national origin.

Anyone who violates these restrictions can be fined up to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $5,000 for a second or subsequent offense. A separate fine can be imposed for each voter’s information that is made available on the Internet.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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