Trump's Final 2023 Challenge: Maine's Ballot Decision

Dispute Arises Over Presidential Eligibility in Maine

by Zain ul Abedin
Trump's Final 2023 Challenge: Maine's Ballot Decision
© Scott Eisen/Getty Images

In a pivotal move that could significantly impact the 2024 presidential race, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows is poised to announce a critical decision: whether former President Donald Trump will be eligible to appear on Maine's presidential primary ballot next year.

This announcement, expected between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, could mark Bellows as the first state election official in the nation to disqualify a candidate for federal office. While Trump's potential removal from the ballot in Colorado, a solidly Democratic state, may not notably sway the presidential election outcome, his disqualification in the politically diverse state of Maine could crucially affect the Electoral College results.

Colorado, transitioning from a swing state to a Democratic stronghold since 2008, seems to be securely in the Democratic column with 10 electoral votes. Maine, however, allocates its four electoral votes proportionally by congressional district, a unique method shared only with Nebraska.

Notably, Trump secured one electoral vote from Maine in the 2016 and 2020 elections by winning the more conservative 2nd Congressional District. His presence or absence on the 2024 ballot could be decisive. The spotlight on Maine intensifies as it prepares for its presidential primary on March 5, coinciding with Super Tuesday, when 15 other states will also hold primaries and caucuses.

The recent landmark decision in Colorado regarding Trump’s ballot access has delayed Bellows' announcement, initially planned for December 22, a week after a public hearing. Both sides have been invited to submit additional briefs following the Colorado decision.

Maine's Ballot Battle

Central to the controversy in Maine, as in Colorado and other states challenging Trump's ballot access, is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This clause, established post-Civil War, bars any state or federal office holder who swore an oath to the U.S.

Constitution but later engaged in insurrection from holding office again. The crux of the debate in Maine is whether state officials possess the legal authority to disqualify a federal office candidate, or if such a decision falls exclusively within the purview of Congress or the courts.

The Maine challengers, including a bipartisan duo of former state legislators, argue that Trump’s actions surrounding the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot, which they claim was incited by him as part of a plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, disqualify him under the 14th Amendment.

Leading Trump's defense in Maine is Scott Gessler, a lawyer and former Colorado Secretary of State. Gessler and his team argue against the notion that Trump's actions constituted insurrection. They contend that state election officials should consider only the constitutional qualifications for president: being a 35-year-old natural-born citizen who has lived in the U.S.

for at least 14 years.

Maine Hearing Dynamics

The hearing in Maine, an extensive eight-hour affair, saw Bellows presiding over a large committee room, with the opposing parties presenting their cases. Gessler disputed the characterization of Trump's actions as incitement, contrasting this with the House of Representatives impeachment vote in January 2021 and the December 2022 report by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack.

Both sides in Maine acknowledge the unprecedented nature of a state election official disqualifying a federal candidate under the 14th Amendment. Gessler emphasized that allowing states to make such determinations could lead to chaos and a lack of uniformity in presidential qualifications across states.

Mike Soboleski, a Republican State Representative and U.S. House candidate argued that disqualifying Trump would disenfranchise Maine Republicans who supported his candidacy. Heather Sprague, a Republican activist and Trump supporter, echoed this sentiment, arguing for the validity of their votes and Trump’s eligibility.

Constitutional Debate Intensifies

The hearing also featured Indiana University Law School Professor Gerard Magliocca, a constitutional law and history expert, who testified that engaging in insurrection encompasses any voluntary act that furthers an insurrection against the Constitution, including incitement.

Magliocca refuted the defense's claim that the presidency is not an “office” subject to disqualification under the 14th Amendment. The contentious issue extends beyond the constitutional debate to Maine law, with challengers citing statutes requiring candidates to meet the qualifications for the office they seek.

Trump's lawyers, however, maintain that he meets the constitutional requirements listed in Article 2. All eyes are now on Secretary Bellows, who faces a complex and potentially historic decision. Regardless of her ruling, the decision is expected to be appealed to the Maine Superior Court.

This situation underscores the ongoing political and legal complexities surrounding Trump's potential candidacy and impact on the U.S. electoral landscape.