Matt Dunlap scoffs at voter fraud, vows to make ranked choice voting work if needed

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LEWISTON — After playing a big role in the demise of a national voter-fraud commission that he feared could limit access to the polls, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap was hailed by some as a hero.

But he is not buying it.

“I’m no Rosa Parks,” Dunlap told a crowd Wednesday at the Muskie Archives at Bates College.

All Dunlap did, he said, was ask for a meeting schedule and some information any member of the commission ought to possess. After a court agreed he should get the data, President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the commission.

Dunlap called his seven-month membership on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity a “strange journey” that is not quite over because he is still suing the panel to get his hands on information the White House did not want him to have.

Dunlap, who oversees Maine’s elections, said he does not believe voter fraud exists in any significant way. Neither does he buy the notion that Russian meddling might have swayed the outcome of the 2016 presidential race.

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But that does not mean he has an easy job.

By Monday, for example, he has to decide whether a people’s veto petition managed to secure enough valid signatures to require the use of ranked choice voting in the June 12 primary, which would be a first-in-the-nation system for races involving federal office or governor, both on the ballot.

If ranked-choice voting is used, as voters approved in a 2016 referendum, it will make figuring out the winners a more cumbersome process that may wind up taking awhile.

Dunlap said if that happens, he plans to lay out a projected timetable for the count beforehand so voters will not get antsy and fear the results might be rigged.

Meantime, he said, he will try to get enough funding from the Legislature to do the job right. But if lawmakers do not come through with the money —  “the Apollo 13 scenario,” as he put it — then his office will keeping plugging anyway and get the job done.

“I become Luke Skywalker with one fast pass at the Death Star,” Dunlap said.

Or maybe it will be like crossing the finish line on a unicycle instead of the hoped-for Cadillac, he said.

No matter what, he said, “we’re going to get there.”

It is that sort of commitment to ensuring the sanctity of elections that convinced him to serve on the presidential commission last summer and kept him there even when critics on the left and right urged him to quit.

Led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the commission focused attention on what Trump-friendly members saw as voter fraud. Dunlap had a different take.

At a public session in September in New Hampshire, he clashed with Kobach after the GOP members tried to portray college students voting as a form of voter fraud if they didn’t also change their driver’s licenses over to the state where they lived while they took classes.

Dunlap said that’s not his definition of voter fraud. In fact, he said, that’s the right students have as American citizens.

“The idea that there’s widespread voter fraud is really more of a myth,” he said.

After the September session, Dunlap could not get any information about meeting schedules or anything else from the commission — not even information about the arrest of a key staff member on child pornography charges in Maryland.

Told by a mysterious Capitol Hill source to sue before Trump kicked him off the commission, Dunlap contacted lawyers recommended to him and quickly filed suit to preserve his standing to bring action in case the president dumped him.

The lawyers, he said, were good.

Having them lending a hand, Dunlap said, “was like having a company softball team and all of a sudden Dustin Pedroia shows up.”

Shortly before Christmas, he won the case. Right after New Year’s, Trump killed the commission.

But Dunlap still wants the records.

“I want to know what the plans were. What were they thinking about doing?” he asked.

He said he remains happy that so many Americans “rushed to barricades with pitchforks” last June when the commission sought voter data from every state. Many, including Maine, refused to comply.

But the incident bolstered Dunlap with its show that people “really, really care about their democratic form of government.”

Dunlap called himself a “country mouse” whose early career, which included flunking one of four college classes in political science, showed little inclination toward politics.

“I grew up on a farm,” he said. “My first job was picking rocks out of strawberry fields.”

He sewed wedding dresses to earn some extra cash in college and later worked for as a cook and on a fishing boat.

But he wound up in the Legislature anyway, and has been its choice for secretary of state for years.

Part of what keeps him there is a commitment to the idea that everyone should be able to vote, a proposition that only Maine carries to the limit, allowing everyone to vote.

He said he understands the fear that Trump’s commission may have wanted to “construct a one-party system in this country,” and worries even now that a new regulation from Washington could require voters to show a verified identification card to cast a ballot.

But Dunlap is determined to keep fighting for the right to vote.

It is crucial, he said, to protect the integrity of elections and to preserve that right.

Dunlap also reminded voters who are not happy with the outcome of the balloting in recent times not to give up.

“If election doesn’t go your way,” he said, “there’s always another election.”

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Secretary of State Matt Dunlap talks about his experiences with the national voter fraud commission at the Muskie Archives on the campus of Bates College in Lewiston Wednesday night. Hosting the discussion is Bates politics professor John Baughman, left. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap talks about his experiences with the national voter fraud commission at the Muskie Archives on the campus of Bates College in Lewiston on Wednesday night. Hosting the discussion is Bates politics professor John Baughman, left. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Secretary of state Matt Dunlap talks about his experiences with the national voter fraud commission at the Muskie Archives on the campus of Bates College in Lewiston Wednesday night. Hosting the discussion is Bates politics professor John Baughman, left. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap talks about his experiences with the national voter fraud commission at the Muskie Archives on the campus of Bates College in Lewiston Wednesday night. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap talks about his experiences with the national voter fraud commission at the Muskie Archives on the campus of Bates College in Lewiston Wednesday night. Hosting the discussion is Bates politics professor John Baughman, left. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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