Joann Bautista

Bautista Contributed / Joann Bautista

A Portland resident with a long background in social justice says she will bring an “equity and inclusion lens” to her new role as deputy secretary of state, examining the impact of state policies and laws on diverse Maine households.

As a policy advisor to Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, Joann Bautista, a resident of the East End, will help track legislation and provide testimony. And, as Maine’s first Latina deputy secretary of state, Bautista hopes to be an inspiration to others as well.

“I truly believe representation matters,” she said. ” I want to inspire kids and young people who grew up like I did – with parents who didn’t know English, living in a low-income neighborhood – that you can still grow up to do extraordinary things.”

Bautista, a former advocacy director for Preble Street, special projects member for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and policy associate at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Washington, D.C., had spoke with the Forecaster about her new role.

What sort of policy work will you advise the secretary of state on?

The office covers the Maine State Archives, the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions, and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. I will assist Secretary Bellows by reviewing legislation and helping to craft departmental testimony on proposed bills, as well as department policy – all with an equity and inclusion lens. Additionally, I will review the constitutionality and practicality of legislation, with a goal of promoting accessibility of voting while maintaining the integrity and security of elections.

How does your experience with Preble Street and the ACLU translate to the work you’ll be doing at the Secretary of State’s Office?

Working at Preble Street and at the ACLU of Maine allowed me to work with clients and individuals from all different races and ethnicities, political beliefs, religious affiliations and so on. Similarly, the Secretary of State’s Office also interacts with a wide range of people because of the impact our agencies have on every single person in our state. The work I did at Preble Street and the ACLU was to ensure the laws and policies at all levels of government were equitable and procedures were accessible to everyone. I hold this hope and vision for the laws, policies and procedures coming out of the secretary’s office as well.

How long have you been involved in social justice work and what  attracted you to it?

​I have always had an interest in social justice work, mostly because of my personal background. I grew up in a rural community in a low-income household with two hard-working immigrant parents, so that gave me first-hand experience with the successes and failures of various government policies and programs. I wanted to have a career where I could bring my experiences to the lawmaking and policy-making process so that the impact of resulting laws and policies on diverse communities and households would be considered.

At the National Immigrant Justice Center you focused on issues impacting unaccompanied children and asylum seekers. Are there ways the Secretary of State’s Office can help these populations?

Secretary Bellows and I are eager to ensure that our office does what it can to make Maine a welcoming place for all. We want to make sure we’re engaging with the immigrant and refugee communities, to encourage civic participation and, overall, do education around the requirements for voting and the process.

One of the focuses of the Secretary of State’s Office is overseeing elections across the state. This past November saw record-breaking absentee ballot voting. Do you see that continuing?

I do. The 2020 election highlighted the convenience and accuracy of absentee voting, so I can see absentee voting continuing to be the preferred method for many. In the Maine Legislature, there are several bills that would only strengthen this process not only for voters but for the clerks who process the ballots.

What are some ways the Secretary of State’s Office can break down barriers to voting to ensure all voters have a say and can access their right to vote?

The secretary and I will be working to build partnerships across the state to assist with public outreach efforts around voting, with a view toward promoting voter participation for youth, minority and homeless citizens of Maine. Since entering office, Secretary Bellows has been conducting a listening tour, meeting with groups from across the state to listen to the voting needs of these communities. We believe democracy works when everyone who is eligible can participate. We already have strong laws in Maine that enable voter participation, from same-day voter registration to no-excuse absentee balloting, and I will be working alongside Secretary Bellows to expand access further, promoting improvements such as implementing online voter registration and ongoing absentee voter status.


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