Rep. Laura Supica, D-Bangor, sits at her desk at the Augusta Civic Center on Dec. 2, 2020. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives pushed through two bills on Tuesday aiming to safeguard elections against tampering and making local campaign spending more transparent ahead of a high-stakes state election.

National efforts by some conservatives to cast doubt upon President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory over former President Donald Trump sparked the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol and was the driving factor in a long recount effort in Arizona by state Republicans.

At the same time, housing interests and tech companies have become more involved in local issues at a time when ballot questions are seeing record amounts of spending. The state has high-profile 2022 races for governor and Maine’s battleground 2nd Congressional District. On Tuesday, former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who is vying for a rematch of his 2018 race with Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, refused to say whether he believed Biden’s win was legitimate.

The bills advanced by Democrats would tighten ballot security rules and force candidates and political committees playing in local races in Maine’s three biggest cities — Portland, Lewiston and Bangor — to file registrations and campaign finance reports with Maine’s ethics regulator. Both passed along nearly identical margins, with lockstep Republican opposition hinting at tension around election administration.

“We are all very aware of the shameful efforts to cast doubt upon not only our democratic process but the people who administer our elections,” said Rep. Laura Supica, D-Bangor.

The ballot security bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, passed 76-55. It would prevent clerks from turning over sealed state election materials and only allow them to open those materials in limited cases including a ranked-choice voting count.

The bill was supported by municipal clerks and election watchdogs, but Republicans chafed against that office having greater oversight of those ballots because constitutional officers are elected by the Legislature instead of a general election. They also argued the bill was unnecessary because Maine does not have particular problems with elections.

“We should allow the municipalities to regulate the vote in the way they see fit,” said Rep. Joseph Underwood, R-Presque Isle. “They know the voters better than the secretary of state does.”

The disclosure bill from Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, would shift campaign finance oversight in the three cities and any others that ever exceed a population of 30,000 or more to the Maine Ethics Commission, which has estimated it would need $1 million in new software upgrades to accommodate more filings. It passed in a 75-55 vote.

“Mainers deserve to know who is funding the campaigns for their local elections,” Lookner said.