WINDSOR — On a sunny afternoon at the Windsor Fair last week, Norene Libby and Liliana Thelander were busy collecting and notarizing signatures from fairgoers that call for a “forensic audit” of Maine’s 2020 election results.

They worked from a booth next to the Kennebec County Republican Party’s small building, at a station replete with a red, white and blue banner sign that read: “Maine 2020 Presidential Election, Forensic Audit Affidavits.”

The pair could not say precisely what signing the affidavit was meant to accomplish, but they suggested the documents could be used in a future court case that seemed ill-defined.

“It’s exercising your constitutional rights,” Libby said, when asked why someone should sign the document.

The campaign is part of an ongoing multistate effort to perpetuate the falsehood – often called the Big Lie – that former President Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election.

In Arizona, Trump’s backers convinced the state senate, which is controlled by Republicans, to force an audit of the state’s election results by outside groups with no expertise. In a months-long effort the group, the Cyber Ninjas, has produced no evidence of inaccurate results in Arizona, although the work is reportedly still incomplete.

With the Maine Legislature now controlled by Democrats, it’s unlikely the former Republican president’s supporters could force a legislative action to subject Maine’s election results to an audit by outside groups.

Still, lawmakers and others who would like to see a firewall built against external intervention in Maine elections will push for legislative funding of a bill, LD 1155, that sets up a mechanism for regular statewide auditing of election results. It’s a measure supported by Democrats, some Republicans, and the state’s top election officials.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, told lawmakers in April she has “great confidence” in Maine’s election system, having observed it firsthand as a poll worker, counting ballots and observing recounts among other activities. Still, she said, not all citizens fully understood how Maine’s system, backed by paper ballots, worked. Nor did they know how to get involved in that process or what to do if they had questions or concerns about it. A post election audit would help bolster confidence in the system, she said.

“I’m not suggesting that there is something concerning in particular to rout out, I’m just a big believer in gathering baseline data and making iterative improvements to systems, and elections are no exception,” Grohoski said. “Public confidence in our elections is of the utmost importance and must be earned, not taken for granted.”

The bill sets in motion a pilot audit in 2022 and requires the secretary of state to create an elections guide by February of each election cycle. The measure is intended to set standard rules for audits and provide transparency.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, also a Democrat, said it’s important that rules be established and not made up as the audit is being done, or established solely by whichever political party holds the majority in the Legislature. The bill received a 32-0 endorsement in the Maine Senate and was passed in the House on an initial vote without a rollcall. It faces additional votes when the Legislature returns for its next special or regular session, likely in January of 2022.

But Libby and Thelander, the Windsor Fair signature collectors, said they were told the proposed law, which is awaiting funding, is a “nothing burger.”

Libby and Thelander’s group, We The People, has the backing of lawmakers who supported Trump in Maine and opposed election reforms put in place during the pandemic. They want photo identification at the polls and to do away with no-excuse absentee voting, which was used by 62 percent of voters in 2020.

The documents the group are distributing, according to Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, may not be worth the paper they are written on.

“So-called affidavits demanding a ‘forensic audit’ of the 2020 election results have no legal significance and appear to be nothing more than a cynical attempt by partisan groups to cast doubt on the validity of Maine’s election last year,” Frey said. “To be clear, our election was secure and free from any irregularities, and no credible evidence to the contrary has ever been presented.”

In Maine, Trump won the 2nd Congressional District by 10 percentage points.

Libby, of New Gloucester, and Thelander, of Bristol, said they want an independent audit of the results, similar to an effort launched by Republicans in Arizona.

That effort, which followed an official state recount of ballots, has been fraught with problems, controversy and expense. It remains incomplete a full nine months after state officials declared President Joe Biden had won the state’s 11 Electoral College votes following a full recount of the ballots.

Republicans who hold the majority in the Arizona Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, a Florida firm whose chief executive officer, Doug Logan, appeared in a film meant to discredit the Arizona election results, made by a conspiracy theorist whose other works include a film that blames aliens for the attacks on 9/11.

Last week, Cyber Ninjas said the official results of their audit would be delayed for at least another two weeks after Logan and two other members of his team contracted serious cases of COVID-19 and were very ill.

Back in Maine, Libby and Thelander said they are not saying Maine’s 2020 results were wrong or rigged, but that they want a firm outside of government to review them. Libby said their effort mirrors the Arizona effort and a firm like Cyber Ninjas should be hired.

“But maybe they need a different name,” said Thelander, who is married to Ed Thelander, a retired Navy SEAL and Republican, who recently announced he would challenge incumbent 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, in 2022.

As of last Wednesday the pair said they had collected some 1,500 signatures from Mainers by attending three different fairs and various Republican Party events.

The language in the three-page document quotes segments of state constitutions in several states, including Maine, and suggests that an individual citizen can demand action from their elected official under the premise the constitution protects the rights of citizens to petition their government to redress grievances.

The document also calls for the state to provide access to 2020 ballots, voting machines, related software, routers, internet devices and other election materials to two specific individuals – former U.S. Army Col. Phil Waldron and/or Jovan Hutton Pulitzer.

Waldron’s firm, Allied Security Operations Group, has been widely criticized by U.S. election officials for false claims of voting malfeasance. In December of 2020 Chris Krebs, the former former chief of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who was hired by Trump, called Waldron’s claims, “factually inaccurate.”

Pulitzer, meanwhile, is a known for inventing the CueCat, a bar code scanning device shaped like a cat, in the late 1990s. He and Waldron are among a cast of characters who have been involved to promote the false narrative that the 2020 election was rigged somehow.

“I can say with high confidence this is legalistic mumbo jumbo,” said Sig Schutz, an attorney who represents the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram who reviewed the documents seeking the audit.

Beyond Arizona’s partisan effort to conduct an audit by avowed Trump supporters, efforts similar to those in Maine are ongoing in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia – three other states where Trump’s campaign contested results.

States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan Washington-D.C.-based nonprofit that works to protect fair, secure and safe elections, has described efforts to promote 2020 election audits as shams.

“These fake election reviews are costing us more than time and taxpayer dollars; this is an organized attempt to undermine people’s faith in our elections,” said Joanna Lydgate, the founder and CEO of States United Action.

Libby said her group’s efforts are being funded by private donations and she was collecting small donor donations at the fair in a jar. The audit in Arizona has been bankrolled by a collection of non-profit, 501(c)(4) “social welfare organizations” that are funded by wealthy businessmen who have been ardent supporters of Trump, including Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.

Instead of post election audits, Maine has depended on its system for recounting close elections to ensure ballots are being counted accurately and the system is not being tampered with. The last significant recount of ballots, which is done by hand, took place in 2018 after the incumbent 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, contested the outcome of his defeat to then challenger Jared Golden, a Democrat. That recount was not complete when Poliquin withdrew his request after it became clear Golden had won the election.

This year, Bellows, the secretary of state, was a member of a national bipartisan vote verification task force created by the National Association of Secretaries of State that included an equal number of Republican and Democratic secretaries of state from across the country.

In August the group released its unanimous recommendations for audits. The recommendations include clear time frames for when the audits should take place, the inclusion of state and local election officials in the process, a transparent system that allows voters to see the audit taking place and a system that doesn’t damage or destroy election equipment or ballots.

Bellows said the legislation moving Maine toward regular post election audits, the state’s track record on recounts in the past, and the high rates of voter participation should all instill confidence that elections here are free and fair.

She said she’s not sure what groups like We The People hope to achieve with Maine’s 2020 election results. Trump won Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, easily won reelection in statewide voting. Republicans also gained seats in the Maine House of Representatives in 2020.

“Just common sense tells you that the 2020 elections were accurate,” Bellows said. “What took place with Cyber Ninjas was a giant con, designed to cast doubt on the 2020 elections and make money for the people involved. It’s lies, and it’s disinformation, and it’s designed to continue this narrative about the 2020 election as a justification to attack the right to vote.”


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