For 27 years, Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn has organized every aspect of every election.
Training clerks. Proofreading ballots. Checking ballot tabulators and requiring local clerks to check them again before Election Day. Countless other small details that go into overseeing elections in Maine’s 500 cities, towns and plantations.
And when someone calls for a recount — whether it’s thousands of ballots cast in a statewide referendum or far fewer in a House race — Flynn is the go-to.
“There is no one in America that is as skilled and knowledgeable, not only about elections and election law, but the nuances surrounding different towns and townships,” former Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers said. “She is fair and totally a complete professional. The elections in Maine are run incredibly well in large part due to Julie Flynn.”
Flynn, 65, has served under five secretaries of state who are chosen by the majority party in the Legislature. Any one of them could have replaced her with their own pick, but her reputation as a no-nonsense straight shooter has put her above the partisan fray.
Heading into the Nov. 8 election, Flynn’s dedication to fairness and transparency will be paramount.
It’s been almost two years since the Jan. 6 rioters stormed the Capitol under the false pretense that Donald Trump won reelection. Flynn is very much aware that some voters will question election results this year.
Not too long ago, Flynn remembers a time when voters brought baked goods to thank poll workers and clerks for their efforts on Election Day.
“Clerks are finding they’re not getting that anymore,” Flynn said. “They are getting people who are less patient and more combative sometimes.”
Flynn, a native Mainer who grew up in North Yarmouth, recommends that those who question the process sign up as a poll worker.
“We do voting at a town level in Maine,” she said. “In most of the towns, especially small towns, these are your neighbors and friends working at the polls. This isn’t somebody from away coming in to do something.”
Although Flynn is not an attorney — she has a master’s in business administration from the University of Maine — she knows the state’s election laws.
Flynn does the work of “at least three people,” Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, said.
“She has a mind like a steel trap and extraordinarily sound judgment and a very strong code of ethics,” Bellows said. “Leaders from both parties know they can trust her to tell it to them straight.”
In her 27 years with the state, Flynn has seen a handful of prosecutions for voter fraud. She’s happy to dispel myths about busloads of out-of-staters voting or that people are casting ballots on behalf of a deceased relative.
Often, it’s a much simpler and less sinister explanation, she said.
“These are very isolated instances, they are instances of somebody, for whatever reason, made a very poor choice,” she said.
According to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, the state has prosecuted seven cases of voter fraud in the last 12 years. All were for dual voting or voting in another name, according to Danna Hayes, spokeswoman for the AG’s office.
Those offenses are Class C crimes, which can carry up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Flynn recalled an incident in 2020 in which a college student voted absentee and then filled out a roommate’s ballot to spite her after a falling out.
That same year, another University of Maine student was accused of voting absentee in her hometown of Milford and again on Election Day in Orono, according to the Associated Press.
In 2010, a father filled out ballots on behalf of two adult children. Another time, a man seeking a divorce from his wife voted in two different towns in the same election, Flynn said.
None of these instances changed the outcome of an election.
To further reassure voters about elections in Maine, the Legislature recently passed a bill requiring an audit after the 2024 election to double-check the tabulations. It’s a pilot program that will be assessed to determine if it’s a necessary new check and balance on the system.
Whether Flynn is still working much beyond 2024 remains to be seen. She wants to continue to serve at least a couple more years.
“I feel like I’ve worked very hard to have a nonpartisan way of approaching elections,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of people I’ve worked with over the years that trust me on both sides of the aisle.”