Maine’s secretary of state tells NPR why she disqualified Trump from the ballot

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows (right) ruled former President Donald Trump can't appear on the state's 2024 Republican primary ballot. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows (right) ruled former President Donald Trump can't appear on the state's 2024 Republican primary ballot. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

President Donald Trump’s representatives say they will soon file an appeal so that he can stay on Maine’s 2024 Republican primary ballot.Last week, Maine became the second state to rule the former president is ineligible to run because of what he did in the days leading up to, and on, Jan. 6, 2021.That followed a similar move by Colorado’s state Supreme Court.

Both states cited Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which states in part that individuals who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” should be disqualified from holding office. The amendment was ratified in the wake of the Civil War.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, made the decision to disqualify Trump, and on Monday spoke with All Things Considered host Scott Detrow about what led to that ruling, what comes next, and the threats she has faced since it was announced.

This interview has been light edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

Scott Detrow: So how did you define “engaging in insurrection” here?

Shenna Bellows: Well, let’s back up first and make sure that everyone understands that Maine law is, to my knowledge, different from every other state.

Under Maine law, when I qualified Mr. Trump for the ballot, any registered voter had the right to challenge that qualification. Five voters did so, including two former Republican state senators. And then I was required under the statute, under the law, to hold a hearing and issue a decision, and do so within a very compressed timeline. So this wasn’t something I initiated, but it’s something that’s required under Maine election law.

Detrow: So the question came to you, but it puts you in the position of weighing a really serious question with big consequences that’s in front of a lot of state courts right now. And that is this question of whether the attempt to overturn the election and what happened on January 6 was insurrection. How did you think about that key question?

Bellows: So I reviewed very carefully the hearing proceedings and the weight of the evidence presented to me at the hearing. And that evidence made clear, first, that those events of January 6, 2021 — and we all witnessed them — they were unprecedented. They were tragic. But they were an attack not only upon the capital and government officials, but also an attack on the rule of law, on the peaceful transfer of power. And the evidence presented at the hearing demonstrated that they occurred at the behest of, and with the knowledge and support of, the outgoing president. And the United States Constitution does not tolerate an assault on the foundations of our government. And under Maine election law, I was required to act in response.

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Detrow: And I understand, as you point out, this is the way the system is set up. You are put in the position of making this ruling. But I do want to ask about some of the specific criticism that has come your way following this ruling. Others have said this, but Maine congressman Jared Golden is somebody who voted to impeach Trump for what he did on January 6, he made it clear he doesn’t want to see him in office again, and he said: “We are a nation of laws. Therefore, until [Trump] is actually found guilty of the crime of insurrection, he should be allowed on the ballot.” What’s your response to that line of criticism?

Bellows: So I encourage people to read my decision, and also read very carefully Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. It doesn’t say “convict.” It doesn’t say “convicted” or “impeached.” But furthermore, here’s what’s very, very important: In my decision, I made clear this is part of Maine’s process. It now goes to Maine Superior Court. Mr. Trump may, and will, appeal to Superior Court. Then it goes to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. And I voluntarily suspended the effect of my decision pending that court process, because we are a nation governed by the constitution of rule of law. And that is extraordinarily important.

So I can’t agree more with representative Golden that it’s the rule of law that matters. And in Maine, under our election laws, the only recourse for the voters seeking to challenge Mr. Trump’s qualifications was to bring that challenge to the secretary of state — to me — and I was required to do my job to hold a hearing to review the evidence and issue a decision. And that begins the process in our state.

Detrow: Do you think the U.S. Supreme Court needs to take this question up?

Bellows: We would certainly welcome the United States Supreme Court to make this clear.

Detrow: And you mentioned that your ruling is on hold for the moment. Same applies to what the state supreme court did in Colorado. How quickly do you in Maine, as the person who oversees elections in Maine, how quickly do you need clarification from the U.S. Supreme Court in order to move forward for the primary?

Bellows: Under federal law all our military and overseas voters are eligible to receive their ballots 45 days prior to the presidential primary, which in Maine is on March 5. So here in Maine, those voters are eligible to receive their ballots on January 20. So the courts are compelled by a very compressed timeline as well here in our state. And I am hopeful we’ll have resolution.

Detrow: I do want to ask your response to one other line of criticism from former President Trump’s legal team — and many Republicans — saying this is just partisan, pointing out you’re a Democrat, arguing that this is just a partisan attempt to take him down in a moment when he’s leading in many polls. What is your response to that, because it’s been a clear part of the narrative for several days.

Bellows: Politics and my personal views played no role. I swore an oath to uphold the constitution and that is what I did. And I will tell you, my house was swatted on Friday night. I stand by doing my job, but the response — the threats of violence and threatening communications — have been unacceptable.

Detrow: Do you have extra security at this point in time, there have been other threats as well.

Bellows: Law enforcement has been incredible. They have been so supportive of me in this time. I feel safe, and I will continue to do my job and uphold my oath that I swore to the constitution, because that comes first.

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