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National News

Maine Secretary of State finds Trump ineligible for state’s primary ballot

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Evan Popp, Maine Morning Star 
December 28, 2023

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows on Thursday disqualified Donald Trump from the state’s primary in a closely-watched decision that makes Maine the second state where the former president has been kicked off the ballot.

Bellows’ decision comes after Trump lawyers on Wednesday argued that the secretary of state should recuse herself from the matter because of several tweets she posted about Jan. 6, including one in which she called the day’s events a violent insurrection. Bellows’ spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on that argument from the Trump’s attorneys.

Bellows found Trump ineligible under the 14th Amendment, which prohibits anyone who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office. Trump engaged in insurrection when he incited people to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, plaintiffs in the cases argued.

Bellows agreed in her decision.

“I conclude… that the record establishes that Mr. Trump, over the course of several months and culminating on January 6, 2021, used a false narrative of election fraud to inflame his supporters and direct them to the Capitol to prevent certification of the 2020 election and the peaceful transfer of power,” she wrote. “I likewise conclude that Mr. Trump was aware of the likelihood for violence and at least initially supported its use given he both encouraged it with incendiary rhetoric and took no timely action to stop it.”

“I do not reach this conclusion lightly. Democracy is sacred… I am mindful that no Secretary of State has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Bellows added. “I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection. The oath I swore to uphold the Constitution comes first above all, and my duty under Maine’s election laws, when presented with a Section 336 challenge, is to ensure that candidates who appear on the primary ballot are qualified for the office they seek.”

Bellows’ decision can be appealed to the state Superior Court, whose decision can then be appealed to the Law Court. After the ruling, Trump’s campaign said it would be appealing.  

The secretary of state’s ruling comes as Trump’s eligibility to appear on the 2024 Republican presidential primary ballot is currently being challenged in more than a dozen states.

Challenges to Trump’s ability to be on the ballot have been dismissed in some states. However, last week, the Colorado Supreme Court said the former president was ineligible to appear on that state’s primary ballot in a landmark ruling that delayed Bellows’ decision on the matter in Maine. The Colorado Republican Party has appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Maine, former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, a Democrat, and former Republican state Sens. Kimberley Rosen and Thomas Saviello challenged Trump’s election eligibility under the stipulations of the 14th Amendment.

In a separate filing, Portland resident and lawyer Paul Gordon argued Trump is ineligible to seek the presidency under the term limits imposed by the 22nd Amendment because the former president has maintained that he won the 2020 election. Bellows rejected the 22nd Amendment challenge.

The case in Maine and the challenges across the country come as the Republican presidential primary is set to get underway next month, with the Iowa caucus kicking things off on Jan. 15. Maine’s presidential primary will be held March 5, when a total of 16 states will vote.

Despite facing a plethora of legal challenges, Trump remains the heavy favorite to once again emerge as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.

Maine Morning Star is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Maine Morning Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lauren McCauley for questions: info@mainemorningstar.com. Follow Maine Morning Star on Facebook and Twitter.