The lead selectman in Corinth came under fire from some residents last week after he used an image of an official town ballot to make his choices known in next month’s municipal election, and the image circulated on social media.
David Dunfee, chairman of Corinth’s Board of Selectmen, sent a photo of the top part of the official town ballot to a few friends via Facebook with his choices for selectmen marked. The ballots hadn’t been officially released yet, and the town hadn’t issued any absentee ballots.
Even though Dunfee said he sent the photos privately, they began circulating online. Some residents were unhappy not only with Dunfee trying to influence voters, but by doing so with the image of an official ballot. With the election set for March 18, official ballots hadn’t been released at that time, initially raising questions for some about how well the ballots were guarded.
Town Manager Travis Gould said he did not send out any copies of an official ballot, but said he sent Dunfee a photo, which the selectman marked digitally before sharing it with friends.
There are three candidates for two open seats on the five-member Board of Selectmen: incumbents Charlene Chesley and Matthew Lassell, and resident Carl Dow.
On the image of the ballot he circulated, Dunfee chose Lassell and wrote in resident Jeffrey Tilton’s name as his second choice.
“I don’t believe you should take a ballot that hasn’t gone out yet and check off names and try to coerce voters to vote the way you want to,” Dow said. “When you take an official ballot and mark on that, that’s going too far.”
Residents took their complaints to the selectmen’s meeting on Thursday night.
“Do you think that’s an ethical way to use a ballot?” Jennifer Libby asked Dunfee.
Dunfee said he checked with Corinth’s town attorney, who told him that it didn’t violate state law to distribute an image of a marked ballot.
“David, we checked state law and found nothing prohibiting the release of a ballot without the word ‘SPECIMEN’ or similar term printed on it,” Edmond Bearor of the Bangor law firm Rudman Winchell wrote in an email to Dunfee, which the selectman shared with residents at the public meeting. “Mr. Gould did not violate any law in providing a copy to you and you didn’t violate any laws by essentially turning it into a political ad and disseminating it.”
“I’m sorry you don’t like it, but there’s nothing wrong with doing it,” Dunfee told residents.
In state elections, it’s illegal to make copies of unmarked ballots. In general, state election laws are aimed at protecting voters’ privacy and the secret ballot.
“If somebody said to me, ‘Is it OK to take a picture of my ballot?’ I would say, ‘No, they’re private,’” Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who oversees Maine elections, told the BDN in 2015.