In Maine, Questions Over Decision to Push Trump Off the Ballot

KITTERY, Maine — A day after Maine became the second state to bar former President Donald Trump from its primary ballot, citing his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, voters who found themselves thrust into a national spotlight Friday voiced reactions as varied and complex as the legal questions threaded through the decision itself.

Peter Fickett, 74, who was repairing a car in downtown Kittery under wintry gray skies, said Maine’s secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, had overstepped her authority in finding that Trump was not qualified to serve as president.

Standing beside him in the gloom, his friend Bob Dodier, 72, firmly but cheerfully disagreed. “I’m happy with it,” Dodier said of the decision.

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Both veterans and both former supporters of Trump’s who said they had grown weary of the frequent controversy he provoked, the two men said they were leaning toward voting for Nikki Haley, another Republican candidate, in next year’s election.

This sprawling, rural state of 1.3 million people is often seen as politically divided, between its wealthier, more liberal-leaning southern and coastal portions, and its less populous, more conservative western and northern expanses. Hillary Rodham Clinton won the state in 2016, as President Joe Biden did in 2020.

But as one of just two states that can divide its four Electoral College votes between candidates, Maine did so in each of the past two elections, awarding one vote to Trump in 2016 and one in 2020 based on his robust support in one large voting district.

Faced with the ongoing election chaos — and the possibility that Maine’s Superior Court could soon reverse Bellows’ ruling on appeal — some residents, including Elizabeth Howard, 21, were opting to stay clear of the fray altogether.

“I’m not big into politics because it’s a lot of drama,” she said after the Maine decision was announced, as she worked at the customer service counter at a tractor supply business in Waterville. “I think there’s a lot of people that are going to be upset, because there’s a lot of people that really liked Trump.”

Yet, many of those upset by the decision said their objections had nothing to do with loyalty to a candidate, but instead reflected their preference for a purely nonpartisan process — a process they now see as tainted by the move to push Trump off the ballot.

Scott McDougall, a 54-year-old Maine native, retail manager and Marine Corps veteran, voted twice for Trump, but said he was undecided about supporting him again, because he had come to question the candidate’s priorities: “How loyal is he to what the country needs, versus his own needs?” He said Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 attack were one of his reasons for worry.

”But I don’t think the secretary of state has the right to decide for us who we’re going to vote for,” he said. “The state doesn’t have that type of power.”

Elected officials in Maine voiced a similar mix of concerns. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who represents Lewiston and a vast area of rural northern Maine, said that although he had voted to impeach Trump over his actions before the Jan. 6 attack, he still believed that Trump should be allowed on the ballot for now.

“I do not believe he should be reelected as president of the United States,” Golden said in a statement. “However, we are a nation of laws. Therefore, until he is actually found guilty of the crime of insurrection, he should be allowed on the ballot.”

But the state’s other U.S. House member, Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Portland, signaled her support for the decision.

“The text of the 14th Amendment is clear,” she said in a statement, adding, “Our Constitution is the very bedrock of America and our laws, and it appears Trump’s actions are prohibited by the Constitution.”

Ethan Strimling, a former Democratic Portland mayor who teamed up with two former Republican lawmakers to file one of the successful challenges to Trump’s ballot access, said the reaction Friday had been passionate and largely respectful, “even on Twitter.”

“There are a lot of folks weighing in, and that’s as it should be,” he said. “There are people with politics close to mine who have real questions about the decision, and people very different from me who agree with it.”

The outcome had seemed to bring about one key consensus, he said: “I think both sides are realizing that it’s a legitimate question that needs to be answered.”

In the small town of Blue Hill, about halfway up Maine’s jagged, meandering coastline — not far from Hancock, where Bellows grew up — Richard Boulet hesitated before revealing his opinion of her decision. As director of Blue Hill’s public library, he is officially “apolitical,” he said; he wants all people, including Trump’s supporters and his detractors, to use the library and feel welcome there.

“As a private citizen, however, there’s not much doubt in my mind that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection on Jan. 6,” said Boulet, 51, sitting at his desk upstairs in the brick library. “That is a real source of concern for me.” He cited Bellows’ former position as director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, and added: “I don’t think she came to this decision lightly. It’s hard for me to see it as a partisan decision.”

Three miles to the north, on the outskirts of town, Donald Bowden, 52, leaned against a door frame outside the automotive repair shop where he has worked for 37 years, R.W. Bowden & Sons Garage.

Taking a short break, his hands black with grease, Bowden, who goes by Donny, said he learned the trade as a teenager under his father’s guidance. He is now the president of the company. His values, he said, are family first, then work, then rest and recreation.

He said he was not political, but he was troubled by Bellows’ action.

“It’s insane,” he said. “I think it’s a little unconstitutional, but they’re trying to use the Constitution to defend it. It’s painfully obvious that it’s a witch hunt for anyone they don’t like. First and foremost, it’s very childish. If you don’t like someone, what do we do? Hound them and hound them and hound them nationwide. Common sense tells you this is not productive.”

He said he would like to see Trump become president again. The former president isn’t perfect, he said, “but he’s a businessman, and the country is a business, for better or worse.”

Maine’s two U.S. senators opposed the decision. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said in a statement that it would “deny thousands of Mainers the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice,” and that it should be undone.

Sen. Angus King, an independent, said in a statement that without a judicial determination that Trump was barred by Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, the clause on insurrection, the former president should remain on the ballot.

Near the town wharf in Kittery, however, Michelle Bourne, 52, was quietly celebrating a decision she saw as a win for a state that she said had not always been known for progressive thinking and leadership.

“I like that Maine took a stand,” she said. “It makes me proud. I think we took a stand for the good of the country.”

Bourne, a resident of New Gloucester and a registered independent, said she voted for Biden in the last election and was undecided about whom to support this time. But she saw no gray area in Bellows’ decision to keep a candidate accused of insurrection off the ballot.

“It makes all the sense in the world to me,” she said. “I don’t even know why it’s a question.”

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