Voters submit their ballots at the Cross Insurance Center on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, with a housing crisis, with a fish farm still very much on the front burner. And yet nobody even puts their hat in,” said Belfast City Councilor Mike Hurley, who is one of several officials running unopposed this year. Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

National Republicans announced they were hiring a full-time election integrity director in Maine and several other states ahead of next year’s election. The Republican National Committee named Sharon Bemis, formerly finance director for the Maine GOP, to the position. The party has made similar hires in North Carolina and Georgia.

“In order for our democratic process to work, Americans must have confidence that our elections are free, fair, and transparent,” said regional RNC spokesperson Andrew Mahaleris. “Making it easier to vote and harder to cheat requires boots on the ground.”

The RNC said Bemis will be focused on voter education and training volunteers, including as poll watchers. But it comes amid rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump, who questioned the integrity of state-run elections and made claims of fraud in his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election despite no evidence of widespread fraud in the U.S.

In Maine, the only known issues last year were two University of Maine students charged with voter fraud after one attempted to vote in two towns and the other in the name of a former roommate. But several Republican lawmakers have pushed for a full “audit” of the 2020 election similar to unsuccessful attempts to identify fraud in other states, although there is no legal mechanism for such a process in Maine and they have outlined no specific problem.

Increased use of poll watchers could set up a familiar fight. Both Republicans and Democrats hire poll watchers, as do nonpartisan groups. But the issue has been controversial at times, including nearly a decade ago in 2012, when Democrats accused Republicans of attempting to intimidate voters and Republicans defended the practice as a routine way of ensuring nothing goes wrong, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The Maine politics top 3

— “In reversal, Maine CDC will allow ‘advocacy journalists’ into next COVID-19 briefing,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long told both their exclusion was due to them being ‘advocacy journalists,’ according to emails provided to the Bangor Daily News. By the evening, Long sent emails to both groups saying they would be allowed to participate in the next one after press advocates said the exclusion could be challenged under the First Amendment.”

— “Former Maine US Senate candidate accused of pointing gun at man over crypto dispute,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “[Matt] McDonald alleged [Max] Linn gave him money in the middle of 2021 to invest in cryptocurrency on his behalf. Linn then went to Indonesia with his wife for a few months. When he returned, Linn wanted to instead use the cryptocurrency to buy drugs from Indonesia that are falsely touted as COVID-19 cures, over McDonald’s objections, the document said.

Linn denies those allegations, saying his former aide barred him from accessing the cryptocurrency. A lawyer for Linn, Steve Juskewitch, said Linn gave McDonald $225,000 to invest, but he denied that Linn wanted to buy drugs with the money or that he threatened his former aide. He said McDonald has barred Linn from accessing the crypto and has not acceded to overtures to return access, calling the allegations “pure fabrication to divert attention from the cryptocurrency dispute.”

— “Maine’s most populous county is among the most vaccinated in the US,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Out of more than 3,000 counties where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks data, Cumberland County ranks 19th, with 86.2 percent of its eligible population aged 12 and older fully vaccinated. Among counties with a population of at least 200,000, it ranks fifth, trailing only two counties in the greater San Francisco Bay area in California and two counties in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C.”

Legislative Council weighs signing onto lobster-rule lawsuit

It would be a relatively rare event for the Legislature. Legislators easily passed a joint resolution last week requiring the 10-member panel of top lawmakers to take legal action to prevent restrictions from being placed on lobster and crab fisheries by federal agencies. It specifically mentions a final rule passed in September meant to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale by reducing the number of vertical ropes in the water. 

The rule is already being challenged in federal court, with Gov. Janet Mills as an intervenor. The order passed last week would allow the whole Legislature to join in with an opposing stance on behalf of both chambers, something that has not happened in at least 30 years, or as far back as the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library can search. 

The last time similar action was taken was when the Maine Senate asked to intervene in a lawsuit concerning ranked-choice voting in 2018. The year before it had asked Maine’s high court for an opinion on the law, leading to it being found partially unconstitutional. 

The council will debate what action to take in an executive session starting at noon today. Follow along here.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...