BELFAST, Maine — A Republican legislator from York County used a far-right event on Tuesday to push an effort to hold a “forensic audit” of Maine’s 2020 election results, but her stated concerns about voter turnout are easily disproved by the vote counts.
The event was part of a tour from conspiracy theorist and former CIA agent Robert David Steele and featuring speeches by Richard Mack, the leader of a group arguing sheriffs can overrule federal law, and Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred. It drew more than 150 people to the Crosby Center in Belfast and a protest of at least 50 people despite pushback in the past few days.
Attendees also collected signatures Tuesday for a proposed audit of the 2020 election in Maine, mirroring efforts in states such as Arizona, although no such legal mechanism exists and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud or election irregularities here or nationally. Republican lawmakers across the country have pushed similar efforts in the past several months in response to former President Donald Trump’s 2020 loss to President Joe Biden.
Sampson did not return a message seeking comment on Tuesday asking about her audit effort and her participation in the event. At Tuesday’s event, she encouraged those in attendance to sign affidavits in support of it without citing specific concerns regarding election results.
“If people think we didn’t have a problem with our election, that’s fine. Let’s trust but verify. It’s as simple as that,” Sampson said. “There are a lot of ways that all kinds of shenanigans can take place.”
She shared a call on Facebook last week for an audit of the 2020 election in Maine, saying it should be investigated whether turnout had exceeded 100 percent in several counties. That is baseless. A Bangor Daily News review of returns from Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ office and U.S. Census Bureau data found county-level turnout among eligible voters ranged from roughly 66 percent in Aroostook County to 86 percent in Sagadahoc County.
While Trump and other prominent Republicans across the country have questioned election results, those kinds of claims have not been widespread in Maine, which was won in 2020 by both Biden, a Democrat, and Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. A spokesperson for the House Republican office did not respond to questions about what Republican legislative leaders thought of Sampson’s audit effort and her decision to speak there.
The event sparked some uproar. Last week, the owner of the Crosby Center defended allowing the event by saying he did not want to discriminate against people. Congregation Beth Israel, a synagogue in Bangor, called on Sampson to withdraw from speaking there on Monday, saying the events like the one in Belfast “legitimize dangerous falsehoods about American Jews.”
Steele has made false, outlandish claims that “elite Jews” were responsible for the Holocaust, that “satanic Zionists” are engaged in a plot against white people and that kidnapped children live in a colony on Mars.
Inside the Crosby Center on Tuesday night, attendees reacted with applause and shouts of “Praise the Lord” as speakers railed against COVID-19 restrictions including mask mandates, as well as vaccines. At one point, Steele said he had been planning to move to Florida, but that he may instead settle in Maine.
When it comes to election falsehoods, Bellows said her office was encouraging people to seek information from reliable sources, use “common sense” when it comes to allegations about the elections and consider how information they might find aligns with how local elections work.
Sampson’s claims of excess turnout cited an October 2020 report from the right-wing Judicial Watch, which dealt with voter rolls, not the actual number of voters that cast ballots. Maine identifies and removes voters who have moved or died from the rolls on an ongoing basis under federal law, said Bellows, a Democrat. The state and municipalities review voter participation lists and vote totals after the election to guard against duplicate voting or other fraud.
“One of the benefits of having administered elections in over 500 municipalities is that it’s hard to have conspiracy with that many different towns,” Bellows said. “We are here to say that the 2020 elections were secure and that we have full confidence in the results here.”