Maine lawmakers on Wednesday will take public testimony on three bills designed to enhance election integrity, protect election officials and make it easier for tribal members to register to vote.

Rep. Teresa Pierce (D-Falmouth) is sponsoring LD 1779 to make sure ballots and voting machines have a clear chain of custody.

She said Secretary of State Shenna Bellows asked her to sponsor the legislation to ensure municipal clerks “retain possession, custody and control over the sealed containers of ballots” and of voting machines.

“While Maine has been exemplary statewide, the secretary and I realized we could strengthen the language around custody of ballots,” Pierce said.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows

Bellows said she wants to prevent a situation like the one in Arizona, where a group called the Cyber Ninjas took possession of ballots and voting machines to review the results of the 2020 presidential election. Pierce’s bill would not allow those types of third-party groups to access Maine ballots or voting machines. Under Maine law, if someone wants a recount, it is conducted by municipal or state officials, with all political parties represented.

Bellows said Maine has a “long-standing tradition of neutral, objective, transparent and open” recounts. She said in Arizona, “the voting equipment was ruined because partisan political individuals had access.”

Consideration of this bill and others on Wednesday by the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee comes at a time when the U.S. Senate is set to take on major voting rights legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate will vote by the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which is Monday, on changes to Senate rules to allow a voting rights bill to move forward, according to the Washington Post.

In Maine, another measure, LD 1821, would make it a “Class C” crime to interfere with an election official. “Class C” crimes are punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. The bill defines the crime as intentionally interfering “by force, violence, or intimidation or by any physical act with a public official who is in fact performing or the person believes is performing an official function relating to a federal, state or municipal election.”

Bill sponsor, Rep. Bruce White (D-Waterville) said he has volunteered to work on Election Day many times and has found election workers to be hard working.

“That’s why I was so concerned when I learned about threats against election workers all across the country,” he said in an email. “Since November 2020, there has been an alarming increase in the number of death threats and violence made against election workers and officials across the country – including here in our state of Maine.”

Bellows said the measure is important given recent national events.

“What we’ve seen in the last year nationally is a very alarming trend of violence against elections officials,” she said, noting that she’s aware of at least two incidents in Maine.

A third bill, LD 1830, would add tribal identification cards to the list of acceptable proof of identity needed for residents when they register to vote. Maine requires identification to register to vote, but does not require an ID to be presented at the polling place.

The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hold the public hearings at 9 a.m. Wednesday via Zoom.