Poll clerks respond to ‘frivolous requests’ in apparent bid to sow mistrust
Clerks across the state have just nine weeks until the crucial 2022 election. But their jobs increasingly include responding to ill-informed election data demands rooted in nationwide efforts to sow mistrust in the process. .
The demands are part of a nationwide trend that is slowing clerks’ ability to do their job. These efforts come from skeptics who believe former President Donald Trump should have won the November 2020 general election, although officials in several states have found no evidence of widespread fraud.
The deluge also has Maine’s top election official fearing it could end up undermining public confidence in the process, as already overstretched clerks struggle to manage the number of applications.
“Every hour that local and state election officials spend responding to frivolous requests is an hour of the detailed and important work of preparing for our election,” said Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.
One of the requests the state has been inundated with is a Notice of Potential Litigation and Request for Retention of Records, which appears to be a copy of the notice that election officials in Massachusetts and Kentucky have received. A template for this letter has been linked to Terpsichore “Tore” Marasa QAnon conspiracy theorist and election skeptic who attempted to run for Ohio’s secretary of state.
A letter provided by his office instructs Bellows to retain “all records relating to any post-2019 federal or state election” until at least 2023. Those records under federal law would have been destroyed earlier this month. Maine Public first reported the trend.
“I am an aggrieved citizen of the United States and the State of Maine, and I am considering filing a complaint against the affected parties regarding the continuing concerns I have regarding the integrity of all elections that have taken place. after December 31, 2019,” the letter read.
These requests were met with denials from the Maine Attorney General’s office, which told the requesters that the “standard” letter was insufficient to trigger an obligation for the state to preserve these documents.
“The obligation to preserve relevant records in anticipation of litigation arises only when the custodian of the records is informed of a credible likelihood that litigation will be brought against him. Indefinite, non-credible or bad faith threats of litigation are not sufficient to trigger a hold,” Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Bolton wrote to a plaintiff.
Another repetitive request the Secretary of State’s office sees is a request for records of votes cast for the November 2020 election. A template for this appeared on a QAnon-linked message board. But records of votes cast are only generated in the Ranked Voting Playoffs, and the two races where this would have applied — the US Senate race and the Presidential race — haven’t gotten to that point. These responses are closed by the office, according to the Secretary of State.
It’s clear these requests stem from nationwide disinformation campaigns, Bellows said, because they will often include data that doesn’t even exist in Maine, such as information about county-administered elections. Municipalities administer elections in Maine.
Election officials are already used to fighting misinformation about Maine’s electoral system, but Bellows said it’s concerning that those efforts could drive those workers into retirement, leading to even more staffing problems. It also takes time to prepare for the election itself or to help people who have real questions.
Voter fraud is rare in Maine and the country. There have only been two recent incidents in Maine: An Orono woman was charged in 2020 with voting for her University of Maine roommate. Another UMaine student was accused of voting twice in that same election.
The Legislative Assembly anticipated that election skeptics could cause problems in future elections. It has since passed laws strengthening Maine’s chain of custody protections for ballots and making it a crime to interfere with or threaten election clerks and requiring annual reports on the number of threats made.
Hostile efforts to question Maine’s electoral integrity are contributing to what has already become a more tense electoral environment, said Will Hayward, advocacy program coordinator for the League of Women Voters Maine chapter.
“You have to be much more prepared for any sort of eventuality these days,” he said. “It’s a shame that we seem to be losing some of that community spirit.”