A most basic right, that of fair and honest elections, is the cornerstone of our representative form of government. A Maine Clean Election Act (MCEA) funded elected official recently resigned after being charged with 20 counts of Aggravated Forgery (a felony), and 13 lesser crimes regarding his MCEA funding. His Republican opponent, also an MCEA candidate, lost by less than 300 votes after being outspent 3.4 to 1. Many of the signatures in question were stamped received in Augusta on April 11,2022 almost all were stamped as received prior to June 4.
This writer asks, why was this candidate allowed to continue, to finance, and ultimately to win an election?
The MCEA process is very prescriptive. There is a 56-page 2022 Legislative Candidate Guidebook and a 13-page Candidate Quick Guide available online. MCEA provided almost $4 million in taxpayer funding to House and Senate candidates in 2020. In a one-person one-vote process, any registered voter in a candidate’s district may make a single $5 donation during the campaign. This donation serves two purposes, the first is to show that the candidate has enough popular support from the voters to be a viable candidate and qualify for public money. The second is to receive money from the clean election fund. At present house candidates receive about $83 in public funds for each $5 donation, up to $11,000 for House candidates.
The clean election process is set up to minimize election fraud but lacks some of the requirements used in other election processes. It depends only on the contributor’s signature to establish the identity of the contributor without any verification. Each form also requires the circulator to sign a statement attesting to the following: “(1) I collected the qualifying contributions (2) to the best of my knowledge and belief, the signature is the signature of the person whose name it purports to be (3) the contribution came from the personal funds of the contributor, (4) I did not give anything of value to the contributor in exchange for their contribution and signature.”
This is followed by the signature of the circulator, the date, and their phone number. If the contribution is cash, a second form must be filled out. This second form requires that the name of the contributor be printed, followed by a signature. The form also has the printed instruction, “Notice to the Circulators: Cash contributors must also sign the Receipt and Acknowledgement (R&A) Form.” This second form is not required for checks or money orders as checks must be signed and a signature is also required on the back of the money order. Unlike other election processes, signatures are not required to be compared to the voter’s signature on file. MCEA depends on the honesty and integrity of the circulator and criminal penalties of up to $10,000 per offence to ensure compliance.
There are victims when people break laws. An honest opponent suffers consequences. Properly collecting and documenting contributions is a structured and often slow process. While a circulator might be able to collect dozens of five-dollar bills in a brief period, just a handful of transactions can be accomplished if the rules are followed. The clean election fund itself is defrauded when forged signatures are used to support the release of funds. Forging people’s signatures is a form of identity theft. The people working on both campaigns who invested time and money in support of their candidates now have an election that must be repeated. The state itself is a victim as a new election is required at a considerable time and cost making the taxpayer a two-time loser.
Polling shows voters want fair elections and to trust the election process. It is time for Maine’s legislature and court system to stand up and protect our most basic right – that of fair and honest elections. Punishing people who break the law and requiring signature verification as part of every MCEA process would be a good start.
Joe Grant, Wiscasset
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