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Maine election chief weighs Trump ballot challenges

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(The Center Square) — Maine’s top election official is considering three challenges to former President Donald Trump’s appearing on next year’s presidential GOP primary ballot.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, has scheduled a public hearing on Friday to hear testimony from supporters and opponents of the ballot challenges before issuing a ruling on the requests later this month.

One challenge was filed by former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, a Democrat, and two former state GOP lawmakers, Tom Saviello and Kimberly Rosen, who argue that a rarely used clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents Trump from being elected to a second term, over his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the capitol.

“The constitution commands that, having sworn an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ it, and then having desecrated that oath by directing a violent mob to storm the capitol while Congress was performing a core constitutional function essential to the transition of power, Trump is ineligible to hold any office under the United States, least of all president,” they wrote to Bellows.

Two voters filed another challenge, Mary Anne Royal of Winterport and Paul Gordon of Portland, arguing that Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, bar him from next year’s ballot.

Trump, the front-runner in the GOP primary, faces four indictments, including one related to his role in the Jan. 6 riots that sought to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. He has denied wrongdoing in the Jan. 6 attack and pleaded not guilty to criminal charges related to efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

The 14th Amendment prohibits anyone who has taken the oath of office to uphold the Constitution from holding public office if they “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

But legal scholars say it has seldom been used, and they differ on whether it would bar Trump from next year’s ballot.

Election officials in 23 states, including New Hampshire and Michigan, have fielded requests to determine Trump’s eligibility for the ballots under the 14th Amendment provision.

So far, no secretary of state or judge has granted a request for an injunction barring Trump from the ballot.

Trump is among six candidates who have qualified for the Maine ballot in the GOP primary. They are Ryan Binkley, a Texas pastor; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley; Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur from Ohio and Doug Burgum, governor of North Dakota, who recently dropped out of the race.

The state’s Republican Party has pledged to fight efforts to bar GOP candidates from next year’s presidential ballot, arguing that voters should be able to cast ballots for their preferred candidates.

“If any shenanigans begin we’re prepared to take action to defend any and all of our candidates,” Maine GOP chairman Joel Stetkis said in a recent statement. “Mainers should be able to vote for their preferred Republican against Joe Biden – as we’ve seen, Biden and his policies are deeply unpopular here because he’s doing a very bad job.”

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