Maine’s top election official rules Trump ineligible for 2024 primary ballot

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Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a 2024 presidential election campaign event at Sportsman Boats in Summerville, South Carolina, U.S. September 25, 2023. 

Sam Wolfe | Reuters

CAMDEN, Maine — Maine’s top election official ruled Thursday that Donald Trump is constitutionally ineligible to appear on the state’s primary ballot next year, fueling a national effort to disqualify the former president over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

The decision by Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, follows a bombshell Colorado Supreme Court ruling last week that concluded the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Trump from serving in office again because of his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

However, Bellows’ office said her decision would not be enforced until the courts weigh in, “given the compressed timeframe, the novel constitutional questions involved, the importance of this case, and impending ballot preparation deadlines.”

In a 34-page decision, Bellows wrote that Trump’s actions around Jan. 6 compelled her to rule him ineligible.

“The weight of the evidence makes clear that Mr. Trump was aware of the tinder laid by his multi-month effort to delegitimize a democratic election, and then chose to light a match,” she wrote, adding that he “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.”

Trump is expected to appeal the decision and others like it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will most likely have to settle the issue. In the meantime, state election officials and lower courts have been forced to grapple with the unprecedented constitutional question on their own.

In a statement immediately after Maine’s decision, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said a court filing was forthcoming.

“We will quickly file a legal objection in state court to prevent this atrocious decision in Maine from taking effect,” he said.

Cheung also went after Bellows.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows speaks at an event, Jan. 4, 2023, in Augusta, Maine.

Robert F. Bukaty | AP

“The Maine Secretary of State is a former ACLU attorney, a virulent leftist and a hyper-partisan Biden-supporting Democrat who has decided to interfere in the presidential election on behalf of Crooked Joe Biden,” he said. “We are witnessing, in real-time, the attempted theft of an election and the disenfranchisement of the American voter.”

Trump had demanded that Bellows recuse herself from the case, arguing she is too partisan — she is a Democratic former state senator — and too prejudiced because she had publicly stated she viewed the Jan. 6 attack as an “insurrection.”

So far, most courts have sided with Trump, with recent decisions in MichiganArizona and Minnesota ruling against citizen-led petitions to disqualify him and affirming Trump’s right to appear on the ballots in those states.

Trump has railed against the effort to remove him from the ballot as politically motivated attempts to undemocratically disenfranchise him and his supporters.

At issue is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was written after the Civil War to prevent former Confederate officers from holding office in the newly reunited states. The clause bars from public office any former official who swore an oath to the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.”

The Colorado court concluded that Trump should be considered an insurrectionist for instigating violence in the lead-up to Jan. 6, though it did not enforce the decision immediately, expecting an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the current cases relate to whether Trump can appear on Republican primary ballots, they would lay the groundwork for potentially removing him from the ballot in next November’s general election if they are upheld.

The effort to disqualify Trump under the 14th Amendment had been paid relatively little attention until the Colorado decision, but the stakes are now higher as other states consider similar arguments with little time to spare.

Maine and Colorado hold their primaries on Super Tuesday, March 5, but federal law requires state officials to send ballots to overseas military service members and others 45 days before elections, meaning the ballots need to be prepared in January.

Politically, strategists in both parties expect the legal case against Trump to ultimately collapse and say efforts to disqualify him will most likely serve only to energize his supporters and fuel his claims that he is being targeted by a vast conspiracy of powerful elite.

Maine, which overall is a reliably blue state, is one of only two states that divide their Electoral College votes by congressional district. Trump won Maine’s rural 2nd Congressional District in both 2016 and 2020 and would be favored to win it again next year. The state as a whole has four electoral votes.


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