A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
Former Gov. Paul LePage is getting increasingly more exposure in his early campaign against Gov. Janet Mills that has largely been focused on economic issues, although he has taken on one potent base cause again and again.
That is voting. He has revived an old push for a voter identification law, something the Republican has called one of his top priorities if he ousts the Democratic governor from the Blaine House. He would need solid Republican majorities to do so. Even then, there would be a threat of a people’s veto, something Democrats employed to maintain same-day registration in 2011. For now, some form of identification is required only to register to vote.
All of this comes on the heels of the 2020 election that former President Donald Trump falsely called “stolen.” LePage repeated that claim after Election Day.
He has also repeated something the Maine Democratic Party flagged in audio from a Mount Vernon event last week: that 163,000 Mainers without IDs voted in the 2020 election. When we first heard him say it this spring, his campaign conceded that he was talking about the total number of active voters who could not be matched with active driver’s licenses, not simply voters in that election.
Last week, he also said that while he has “great confidence” in elections in towns with less than 1,000 people because clerks know many of the voters, “you’ve got to be a little more careful” about cities. It is worth noting that all of these places follow the same set of protocols. The comments drew a response from Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat who said chain-of-custody provisions and paper ballots here “protect against fraud.”
“To suggest otherwise is a lie,” she tweeted.
Political geography is important here. During his last election in 2014, LePage won a majority of votes in towns with less than 650 voters, a decent proxy for a population of 1,000 or so. Small towns are generally LePage country, something likely to hold true in the 2022 election even if he loses a race with Mills that has polled closely so far.
His recent comments look to be aimed at striking a balance of calling into question parts of Maine’s election system while reassuring supporters that their votes will count. All of this will factor into his campaign with Mills. It may be a bigger deal if he wins and pushes voting changes. Even if Democrats lose control of Augusta, there would be options left to fight them.