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Secretary of state disqualifies Trump from Maine's Republican primary ballot

Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, in Waco, Texas, March 25, 2023, while en route to West Palm Beach, Fla.
Evan Vucci
AP file
Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, in Waco, Texas, March 25, 2023, while en route to West Palm Beach, Fla.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows says former president Donald Trump is not qualified to appear on Maine's presidential primary ballot, citing his role inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Maine is now one of two states that have ruled that Trump is disqualified from appearing on the ballot by citing a section of the 14th Amendment that bars candidates from seeking office if they participated in or aided an insurrection.

The Colorado Supreme Court came to a similar decision last week, which was challenged Thursday by that state's Republican party. That challenge is expected to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, and that could affect Bellows' ruling, which can also be appealed in state courts.

Bellows suspended her ruling until Maine Superior Court can review the matter. Still, Bellows said her determination was based on Trump’s range of falsehoods about the 2020 election and provoking his supporters to storm the Capitol and halt its certification in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I conclude … that the record establishes that Mr. Trump, over the course of several months and culminating on January 6, 2021, 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,” Bellows said in her ruling. “I likewise conclude that Mr. Trump was aware of the likelihood for violence and at least initially supported its use given he both encouraged it with incendiary rhetoric and took no timely action to stop it.”

Bellows, a Democrat, is the first secretary of state to rule that Trump is ineligible for the ballot because of the insurrection clause, a provision added shortly after the Civil War to bar participants or abettors of the Confederacy from seeking office. She told Maine Public Thursday that Trump's actions leading up to and on Jan. 6 were an attack "on the rule of law."

"The evidence before me demonstrated that those events occurred at the behest of and with the knowledge and support of the outgoing president (Trump)," she said. "And the U.S. Constitution does not tolerate an assault on the foundations of our government. Maine law required me to act in response."

Bellows' finding came after a group of petitioners challenged Trump's eligibility to appear on the GOP primary ballot. Unlike other states, Maine law outlines a process for the secretary of state to weigh such challenges, which puts Bellows, who is elected by the Legislature, in a quasi-judicial role in considering oral arguments and written evidence.

Trump's attorneys repeatedly argued during an evidentiary hearing that Bellows doesn’t have the authority to act on the challenge, much less interpret the insurrection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

On Wednesday, they ramped up their criticism by asking Bellows to disqualify herself from deciding whether the former president should appear on the presidential primary ballot. They argued that she is biased against the president and already has decided that he engaged in an insurrection because of social media posts she wrote after Congress attempted to impeach Trump for his role in Jan. 6.

Bellows said Thursday that her decision was not influenced by her partisan affiliation or her personal views.

Republicans quickly condemned her ruling.

"This is a sham decision that mimics third world dictatorships," said Maine House minority leader Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, in a statement. "It will not stand legal scrutiny. People have a right to choose their leaders devoid of mindless decisions by partisan hacks.“

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who voted to convict Trump on impeachment charges for his role in Jan. 6, also criticized the ruling.

"Maine voters should decide who wins the election — not a Secretary of State chosen by the Legislature," she said on the social media site X. "The Secretary of State’s decision would deny thousands of Mainers the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice, and it should be overturned."

Trump's legal team has five days to appeal Bellows' decision in Maine’s Superior Court.

Bellows says she understands the gravity of her ruling, but argues that Trump's actions required it.

"I am mindful that no secretary of state has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the 14th Amendment," she said. "I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection. The oath I swore to uphold the Constitution comes first above all, and my duty under Maine’s election laws, when presented with (a ballot challenge), is to ensure that candidates who appear on the primary ballot are qualified for the office they seek."

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.