Gardiner City Clerk Kathleen Cutler helps Janet Slade get signed up for an absentee primary ballot on Thursday at Gardiner City Hall. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

When Kelly Hare signed what she thought was a petition nearly a year ago, she had no idea she was also changing political parties.

“People were asking everyone to sign petitions” outside of a store, Hare said. “If it’s not something I am completely against, I’ll sign it to get their thing on the ballot.”

Hare, the utility billing clerk at Gardiner City Hall, said she believed the document was only a petition to allow the No Labels party to appear on Maine ballots. But when her coworker, City Clerk Kathleen Cutler, was running voter registration lists and wondered whether she’d know anyone on the list of 18, Hare checked her own registration and found the change.

Local and state elections officials have said they are still concerned that many voters, like Hare, inadvertently enrolled in No Labels and will find out at the March 5 presidential primary that they can’t vote on the Democratic or Republican ballot. Or even if those voters knew that they enrolled in No Labels, they may not understand that means they cannot vote in another party’s primary.

That potential confusion, along with new rules for how unenrolled voters choose their ballot, has led several municipal clerks in central Maine to ready themselves for complaints from voters come election day.

This year, as part of Maine’s new “semi-open” primary, unenrolled voters can choose which primary election to vote in on Election Day — Democratic or Republican. Such voters will remain unenrolled if they choose to vote in either party’s primary; it’s not a party registration switch, although it will be a public record that they voted in either party’s primary.


That is a departure from the past when unenrolled voters had to enroll in a party before the primary to be able to vote.

Registered Democrats and Republicans can vote only in their party’s primary, as usual. Voters enrolled in other parties, including the newly formed No Labels, cannot vote in the state’s March 5 primary, since those parties do not have primaries in Maine. As of January this year, the secretary of state’s office reported there were 948,734 registered voters in Maine.

No Labels, which is eyeing a third-party ticket in the November presidential election, came under fire last year in its voter registration efforts. In May, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, the state’s top elections official, formally issued a warning to the party after her office received complaints from confused voters who thought they were merely signing a petition, not enrolling in a new party.

About 800 Mainers later rescinded their enrollment.

Following Bellows’ warning, No Labels said they took steps to clarify their voter registration drive methods, including having petitioners wear bright-colored T-shirts clearly indicating their intentions and increasing training for canvassers.

A spokesperson for Bellows, though, said this week that her office is still concerned that voters may have unknowingly switched parties and urged voters to check their registration before the upcoming elections.



In a news release Tuesday, No Labels touted winning ballot access in Maine so it could offer “a Unity presidential ticket for the 2024 election.” The organization noted it had to register at least 5,000 Maine voters to gain ballot access in the state, and as of Tuesday it had 9,423. Nearly a month ago, the Secretary of State’s Office had confirmed No Labels had met the threshold to become a qualified party in Maine.

Maine has joined 13 other states in granting No Labels ballot access in the November election and is currently the only state in New England to do so. No Labels says it’s actively pursuing ballot access in another 14 states.

Holly Page is co-founder of the No Labels party seeking to bring a “unity” candidate to the 2024 presidential election ballot. Photo courtesy of No Labels

Holly Page, co-founder of No Labels, was in Augusta on Friday as she made a swing through Maine, talking with residents in central Maine and in other locations such as Portland and Camden. In an interview Friday, Page defended No Labels’ registration drive and noted that once state officials raised the initial concerns last year, group officials “took it seriously and made sure everyone representing No Labels understood how they had to convey what they were doing,” while using forms provided by the secretary of state’s office.

“It doesn’t do us any good to try to trick people; it will only come back to hurt us,” Page said. “We have respect for the rules of Maine and … we believe we’ve addressed that.”

Page said No Labels is focused on getting on ballots in all 50 states according to each state’s rules and deadlines, and after that would focus on identifying a “serious” unity presidential candidate who would use the group’s ballot access in each state.


Page, who served as a fundraiser on the 1992 winning presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, noted that in the 1992 election, independent presidential candidate Ross Perot didn’t start getting on state ballots until March 1992 (he announced his campaign on Feb. 20 that year) and had finished his ballot efforts by September. Clinton, a Democrat, won that presidential election against incumbent Republican George H. W. Bush, and while Perot garnered 19.7 million ballots in the popular vote, he didn’t receive any electoral votes that determine the winner.

“We’re right on schedule, and even ahead of where Perot was,” Page said of the state ballot-access effort.

Even so, Page said No Labels is encountering efforts to thwart their ballot access, including “frivolous challenges and lawsuits” from both parties in some states. Generally speaking, she said, Democrats have brought more challenges to their efforts, and Page said she didn’t understand why.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is widely expected to be facing off against former Republican president Donald Trump, which would be a rematch of the 2020 election that Biden won.

Speaking on Friday, which was also Groundhog Day, Page noted the informal holiday and said No Labels is trying to stop the country from having a “groundhog year” in the general election.

“This is a fundamental conversation about democracy and freedom,” Page said. “There is no freedom without choices.”



Some municipal clerks said they remain concerned about voter registration confusion.

In Skowhegan, Town Clerk Gail Pelotte raised the alarm at a Jan. 9 selectmen’s meeting. “I’m kind of guessing that it could be crazier than normal,” Pelotte said about the primary. “I’m OK with a little bit of crazy, but I’m not good with a lot of crazy.”

Hare, the Gardiner utility billing clerk, knew the registration change wasn’t intentional on her part.

“There’s some things I just know I wouldn’t do, and I just know I wouldn’t change my voter registration on the street,” said Hare, who said she has since changed her voter registration.

Gardiner City Clerk Kathleen Cutler is seen Thursday at Gardiner City Hall. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Pelotte said there is no issue with voters changing parties. But after the town sent out about 30 required notices to voters who switched to No Labels, a little less than one-third of those voters reached out to her office not knowing that they had switched, she said in an interview.


In Waterville, City Clerk Patti Dubois said “a handful” of voters who switched to No Labels contacted her office wanting to switch back to their original party or unenroll. And, like Pelotte, she thinks some voters who enrolled in No Labels may not have realized yet, or did not realize that by switching parties, they lost the ability to vote in other party’s primaries.

“I expect to have some concerns raised from certain voters that are in parties that aren’t having a primary election,” Dubois said. “They will be questioning why they’re unable to vote in the primary.”

In other towns, how many voters unknowingly enrolled in No Labels remains unclear.

Audra Fleury, Winslow’s town clerk, and Richard LaBelle, Norridgewock’s town manager, both said they have heard of the issue, but have not heard directly from voters with any concerns.

LaBelle said 30, or about 1%, of Norridgewock’s registered voters are now with No Labels. Given what he has heard from other towns, LaBelle said it is possible that the issue could come up on election day. “Time will tell,” LaBelle said.

Though No Labels is new on the scene, municipal clerks said they are used to receiving more questions around primaries, which almost always have separate ballots for different parties.


Election workers prepare for voters on June 14, 2022, in the gymnasium at a Waterville Junior High School polling station. Morning Sentinel file

“Primary elections are always confusing for voters,” said Dubois, the Waterville clerk.

In Skowhegan, as well as other municipalities, elections staff will receive training from the state to make sure enrolled and unenrolled voters get the correct ballots, Pelotte said.

Officials agreed on one recommendation to avoid confusion on election day: Voters should check their voter registration as soon as possible.

Voters can change party enrollment up to 15 days before the primary, or the last business day in their municipality on or before Feb. 19, which is President’s Day, according to the Department of the Secretary of State. But for some, it could be too late, since voters need to have been in a party for at least three months to be eligible to change their enrollment.

“Taking action now could ensure that a voter is able to vote (on) the ballot of their choice come Primary Day,” Bellows, the secretary of state, said in a written statement. “I also urge Mainers to take lots of care and read thoroughly before they put their signature down on paper — it could save them a real headache later.”

Managing Editor Scott Monroe contributed reporting. 

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story