A half-dozen Democrats hope to replace outgoing Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap when the next Legislature meets next month for the first time.

The six candidates will participate in an online candidates forum Tuesday hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the League of Women Voters Maine, Maine Conservation Voters and 13 other organizations that work to enhance voter access, voting rights and on a host of other issues.

Dunlap, a Democrat from Old Town, was first elected to the office in 2005. He has served seven two-year terms in all, including the last four. He’s the first person to hold non-consecutive terms in the post since 1880, and has ushered the state through several key election moments, including the introduction of ranked-choice voting in 2016 and record levels of absentee voting during the pandemic.

Here’s what you need to know about the Secretary of State’s Office and how Maine selects the person who will hold the position for the next two years.

What does the secretary of state do exactly?

The secretary of state is the state’s chief elections officer, but also has several other important responsibilities, including managing the state’s archives and running the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

“The Department of the Secretary of State touches the lives of virtually every Maine resident,” Dunlap says in a statement on the secretary of state’s webpage. “From safeguarding the original Maine State Constitution and preserving millions of precious historic documents, to conducting state elections and testing motor vehicle operators, the broad array of department functions is unusual and interesting.”

How does somebody become Maine’s secretary of state?

Maine is among only three states (New Hampshire and Tennessee are the others) where the secretary of state is elected by the state Legislature. In Maine, this happens every two years.

How is this different in other states?

In 24 states, the secretary of state is directly elected by voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In Alaska and Utah, the elected lieutenant governor serves as the chief election official. Nine states have boards or commissions that oversee elections. In five states, the secretary of state is appointed by the governor, while seven states use a combination of an election commission and a chief election official.

Who are the candidates?

So far, there are six people who have announced, all Democrats. They are:

Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester was just re-elected to a third term. She is the former executive director of the ACLU of Maine and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate against Susan Collins in 2014.

Sen. Justin Chenette of Saco is completing his second consecutive Senate term but did not seek re-election this year. He previously served two consecutive terms in the Maine House and is the outgoing Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.

Rep. Matthew Moonen of Portland is the outgoing House majority leader and executive director of Equality Maine, a nonprofit that advocates for equal rights for members of Maine’s LGBTQ community. Moonen is completing his fourth consecutive term.

Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop, an organic farmer, is completing his fourth consecutive term. He most recently served as chairman of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and sits on the Legislature’s Veteran’s and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over voting and election law.

Rep. Erik Jorgensen of Portland is serving his fourth consecutive term and is a member of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

Former state Rep. Thomas Bull of Freeport currently works for as a facilities and procurement specialist in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. In the Legislature, he represented Freeport and Pownal from 1996 to 2004 and also was Sergeant at Arms for the Maine Senate from 2012 to 2014.

How can I learn more about these candidates?

You can watch the online candidates forum Tuesday at 5 p.m. by registering online at: secure.everyaction.com/KIIMwOz4G0KPxQy3A-zkNQ2. 

A video recording of the forum will be posted on YouTube soon after the event. You will also be able to view the candidates’ answers to a questionnaire produced by the Maine Conservation Alliance on the organization’s website: protectmaine.org after Nov. 19.

When is this election held?

The election of constitutional officers usually happens the day the new Legislature is sworn in, which is expected to take place on Dec. 2. The previous day, the majority and minority caucuses will meet to pick their nominees for the office. That is followed the next day by a secret ballot election to determine who will fill the post.

Maine’s other constitutional officers – Attorney General Aaron Frey and State Treasurer Henry Beck, both Democrats – are not expected to face challenges from within the Democratic majority caucus.

The Republican minority caucus can offer a candidate in these races, but none has been announced.

So, is the secretary of state a nonpartisan post?

While the office itself is meant to be nonpartisan, candidates from the party holding the legislative majority are typically elected. This year, that means Democrats – who hold 80 of 151 seats in the House and 22 of 35 seats in the Senate – hold the upper hand. There may be a narrow pathway for a candidate who does not hold majority support but it is highly unlikely.

How do candidates campaign for the post?

The campaigns for constitutional office are typically low-key. You are unlikely to see or hear any candidate advertising and since they are often current, former or outgoing state lawmakers, much of the campaigning is done person-to-person.

Does a regular voter like me have any say in all of this?

Yes. Voters who want to express a preference in these races should contact their state representative or senator to express support or opposition to a particular candidate.

How do I do that?

You can call or email them. To leave a message for a state senator, call 800-423-6900. To call a member of the House, dial 800-423-2900. For TYY use Maine relay 711.

Senators and representatives’ contact information can also be found online. For the Senate go to: legislature.maine.gov/senate. On the left side of the page click on the link, “Find your State Senator.” For the House go to: legislature.maine.gov/house. At the top of the page click on the drop-down tab, “Representatives.” There you will find links to email addresses and additional contact information, including a link allowing you to search for your representatives based on your hometown.

You can also submit a message and leave your contact information for your state lawmakers using the Legislature’s online contact form found at legislature.maine.gov/contact


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