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Ep. 19: Shenna Bellows, Maine Secretary of State

Ballot Box Briefing: Episode 19

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The Ballot Box Briefing is a weekly segment on Sirius XM’s The Briefing, that examines the issues and storylines at the heart of running an efficient and accurate election. Guests include election administrators, local, state, and federal officials, cybersecurity experts, legal analysts, and members of BPC’s Democracy Program.

Episode 19. Shenna Bellows discussed election security preparations underway in Maine and strategies to reduce turnover in the elections workforce ahead of the presidential election.


The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Steve Scully (SS): It is the final weekend before Maine’s primary next Tuesday, June 11th. We’re pleased to welcome back to the program, Shenna Bellows. She is Maine’s Secretary of State, joining us from Augusta. Up where near Tim Farley is located. Hey, thank you very much for being with us, Madam Secretary.

Sec. Shenna Bellows (SB): My pleasure, hello.

SS: Let’s talk about Tuesday’s primary and how you’re preparing for that and what are some of the lessons that you’ve taken into account over the past three to four years since 2020?

SB: Tuesday in Maine is our statewide primary. Just this week we held three trainings for our municipal clerks who administer our elections. One training on de-escalation for those difficult situations. Our first ever, unfortunately, active assailant response training. And a threat analysis and reporting training. We’ve made preparations with our coalition partners, so we’ll have a sit room ready to go and I’ll be traveling around the state to keep an eye on things.

SS: You know, it is sad to even hear that you have to think about to train for the possibility of some sort of an attack on something that is so fundamental to our democracy—casting a ballot.

SB: It is, and I think we’re in a really troubling moment, an inflection point in our nation’s history because there is—and make no mistake, it’s a minority—but it is a small, well-funded, well-organized, very loud faction of individuals seeking to leverage threats of violence and stoking fears to try to upend our democracy. And we need to be prepared for any possibility, and we hope that what we’ll see on Tuesday will be exactly what we saw at the March presidential primary. There were lots of threatening communications, over 100 into my office alone, but at the end of the day what we saw was a safe, secure, accessible election where people showed up, cast their ballots and their ballots were counted. And I think that’s what we’ll see on Tuesday.

SS: You were the Secretary of State that basically said Donald Trump because of the insurrection clause in the U.S. Constitution could not be on the ballot. A judge has put that on hold. What’s the latest, Madam Secretary?

SB: Thank you for reminding the listeners of that. In Maine, we have this unique law, and my job as Secretary of State is to uphold Maine election law. And so consistent with Maine law, with my oath and obligation to follow the Constitution, I had ruled that Donald Trump had not qualified for the presidential primary ballot. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that states cannot interpret section three of the 14th amendment in regard to federal candidates, which deemed Trump eligible. He was on Maine’s ballot in March. And we will see what the Republican Party does at convention, but he is likely to be on the November ballot. I think what’s most important to recognize is that it’s the rule of law that matters most. And I’m glad the public has clarity and we can focus on making sure that every voter, regardless of who they are, where they come from, they can register to vote, cast that ballot, and know that their voice will matter, that their vote matters.

SS: But as you know, that decision by you led to a lot of personal threats against you and your family. How are you doing today?

SB: I’m doing really well, you know, summer in Maine is the best… everyone should come to Maine and eat our lobster and hike on the coast or in our mountains… but you know… it was completely unacceptable what happened to me. I made my decision in December of 2023. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly, and immediately it fueled a deluge of threats against me in my office, but also targeting members of my family. I was doxed, my personal information posted on the dark web with exhortations to target me, and then I was swatted. My mom was like, what’s swatting? And I was like, well, Mom, it’s a call designed to elicit a strong law enforcement response to the target’s home and in some cases across the country has led to harm to law enforcement or to the target, and in at least one incident, the death of the homeowner. So, fake, but dangerous. And it was unending for some time, very abusive, very threatening. Again, in retrospect, it was a strategy. There was a small minority trying to stoke dangerous flames, to suggest violence and lead to more violence against election administrators. We’re seeing it in other spheres, in the courts as well, for example. But what I saw in my community. What I saw in my hometown of Manchester here in central Maine and everywhere across the state, was it didn’t matter if people agreed or disagreed with my decision, people reacted with love and support. They wanted to stand up for my safety, and so I received a lot of positive feedback and really strong support, including from people who said, look, I don’t agree with you. I’m voting for Donald Trump, but no one should be targeted for just doing their job.

SS: She is Maine’s 50th Secretary of State. Shenna Bellows is joining us from Augusta, Maine. And let me ask you about workers also getting those threats. How are you dealing with that? How are they dealing with that?

SB: So unfortunately, we’ve passed laws to strengthen accountability against those who target our election officials at the local level with threats of violence. And we’ve created systems for reporting that immediately, for rapid response investigation and potential prosecution. And then we conduct these regular trainings now that were unfathomable just a decade ago, so that clerks know that they have techniques. We also now communicate very closely with law enforcement to make sure they know what Maine election laws are and that they are ready to support our election officials in any way possible. But unfortunately, what you see is it’s led across the country to retirements of some clerks. People have left the field. It’s made it harder in some circumstances, to recruit people to want to run our elections. And it’s definitely added another element of stress on a job that quite frankly is very rewarding, but also can be pretty high stress.

SS: And the Bipartisan Policy Center did a report looking at just over two decades of election workers. It’s available, by the way at [It shows a] relatively steady rate in Maine. What are you doing? What are some of the best practices from other states, and where is it a problem.

SB: I read that report. And you know, one of the things that that we have noticed across the country is that people are sometimes making that decision: Do I keep dealing with this unceasing harassment, particularly on social media, for example, or do I keep doing the work? Or is it time to retire or time to get another job? Most of our clerks have stayed. We do have a lot of longevity and stability in the sector, but we have seen, this year we’ve got about 1/3 of clerks who are new for the first time. We do a lot of training with them, a lot of communications and support, and we have strong redundancies in place so that there’s backup for the new clerks and we have a strong network of clerks so they can support each other as well, peer-to-peer. And we’re actively recruiting members of the public to get involved because every member of the public can serve as a volunteer poll worker and support those clerks on Election Day. Or, one clerk said to me, she’s still doing this work, she’s been doing it for over 20 years. I’ve shared the story before, she said ‘I really want people to be bringing, you know, bring your best selves to the polls. Bring that pie.’ That’s she said 20 years ago, it was like homecoming. And sometimes, you know, in modern times it can be really stressful. And so I always tell folks, your clerks might appreciate a homemade pie, blueberry pie, this Election Day.

SS: I’ve said this before here in the program, my mom spent many, many, many years working the polls. I think at the time she got paid 25 or 30 bucks, but she loved it. Because [there was] a lot of good food, and she also saw all the neighbors in the community and it was just a fun day for her to get out of the house and we were in her hair, so she could get out and get away from us for even a little while.

SB: I love that. Actually, I often tell the election deniers. I’m like, you know what, you have questions about our elections? You have to be polite, you have to be well mannered, but go volunteer. Check it out for yourself. You’ll see those checks and balances, those safeguards that ensure the integrity of our election.

SS: And the cookies are good. And yeah, the blueberry pie.

SB: And the cookies can be good.

SS: If there’s one thing that you wish people knew more or better understood about elections, what would that be, Madam Secretary?

SB: What I have experienced over the last four years, despite the threats of violence, despite the harassment, the swatting, the doxing, what I have experienced, is that most people are good and most people want to do good. And as I’ve met with election administrators across the nation— Republicans and Democrats—and our clerks in our state who are from every political background, the vast majority are interested in continuing our tradition of free, fair and secure elections. So I wish most people knew that despite the headlines, don’t despair. The fundamentals are strong, but we have to fight to keep it that way.

SS: Shenna Bellows is Maine’s Secretary of State and the last time we had you on I meant to ask you this and I forgot, but I’m not going to do so today… you are a former Peace Corps volunteer spending time in Panama. When did you go? What did you see? And what did you learn?

SB: Oh my goodness, 1999 to 2001. I was there for the transfer of the canal. I was in La Arena de Chitré, which is known for its pottery and its bread. So if anyone’s planning a visit to Panama, go to La Arena and you can get some good bread and some good pottery because the clay in that town is just excellent for clay ovens and for clay pots.

SS: Who knew? So I’m hungry already for the bread and the blueberry pie.

SB: Or, come to Maine and have some blueberry pie. Lots of options here. Thanks so much.

SS: Shenna Bellows, thank you so much for being with us. We’ll check in with you often and good luck on Tuesday, primary day in Maine. So if you’re in Maine, go out and vote. You have early voting, don’t you?

SB: That’s right, 30 days of no excuse, absentee voting. That ended yesterday.

SS: Very good, Madam Secretary. Have a great weekend.

SB: Anyway, take care, have a nice weekend.