Erik C. Jorgensen

Erik C. Jorgensen

Representative

Why should you be Secretary of State?

I come at this office from, before my eight years in the Legislature, a 25 year career in Maine history museums, civics, and the public humanities. I spent 10 years as a history museum director, I worked for more than a decade at the Maine Humanities Council, Maine's affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, including six years as director. I graduated from Bowdoin College and I hold a masters degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School where I was a Henry Brooks Fellow, a fellowship awarded for public service in Maine. There I focused on internal management of public organizations. In the legislature, I spent eight years on the Appropriations Committee.

This experience has given me a strong background in management, including managing a distributed organization working within a Federal regulatory structure. It's also provided me with a deep knowledge of Maine.

With that background, my point of entry to the Department of the Secretary of State is through the state archives--essentially Maine’s official memory bank, its collections include the entire record of state government from the actual state constitution, to military records, to every idea, good bad or awful, to come out of the executive branch agencies. I maintain that an understanding of the past is essential to understanding the present and avoiding missteps in the future.

The archives are, however, only a small part of the SOS’s charge. No other office in the state, other than maybe Maine Revenue Service, touches as many of Maine’s people directly or indirectly as this department. You interact with the secretary of state when you register to vote, when you register your car, when you file your business documents, and when you need an ID, just to name a few.

The entire approach I take to this position is based on a few key principles:

At the heart of everything is public trust. It is a nonpartisan public office that serves all Mainers and has to do so in a way that is efficient and customer focused.

Underlying that, and underlying anything else the department does, you need to absolutely assure privacy and data security, protecting everything from the voting rolls to the driving records of our people. Whatever reforms we choose to do need to rest on the foundations of customer service, security and privacy. Those will drive every decision.

We currently have a very good electoral system in Maine, and while there is room for it to be better, I think it’s important to celebrate features like paper ballots, robust early voting, localized and distributed elections, and the great failsafe: same day registration. we have great tools to protect the voters and protect those running. I would definitely support reforms to make voting easier and more modern. I would support the lessons we learned this year, provided those reforms can be realized with new funds and not funded, as state government often is, at the expense of other functions or staffing in those offices.

Three quarters of the secretary’s office and probably a similar amount the job relates to the Bureau of Motor vehicles. Not only does that present a critical public service function with offices in all parts of the state, but it also ties into the department’s civic role through the Automatic Voter Registration program, which will be rolled out in the coming months along with the final implementation of Real ID. Those are big projects to be handled during a time when there are pandemic related backlogs, when there are vacancies and there is a hiring freeze. BMV will require a lot of focus by the next secretary.

We are in a moment where the foundational aspects of our democracy are under sustained and persistent assault. We have a president who has not acknowledged defeat, despite his own administration's acknowledgement of the integrity of the election. It is an unprecedented and dangerous moment, and while Maine's Secretary of state cannot fix this national problem the Secretary needs to be relentless in promoting normalcy and rebuilding trust. The legislature sets policy, the Secretary and his/her staff carry that policy out.


Do you support the establishment of an online voter registration system in Maine?

Yes

This measure would make us consistent with most other states. It would reduce workload on municipal clerks, and has been among the most requested services asked for by my constituents. It's a good idea. But it needs to be legislatively authorized and funded properly.


Do you support Maine joining the Electronic Registration Information System (ERIC)? More information about ERIC can be found here: https://ericstates.org/

Yes

I spoke with the League of Women Voters about this service last year, and think it would be a great idea (I approve of the name too). Eric helps assure the voter rolls are accurate. The main barrier to participation to date has been cost, and that remains a barrier. The bureau of elections is stretched very thin and its small staff has been pushed hard. New services and new projects must be paid for and properly staffed.


As a way to lower or eliminate barriers to voting, do you support providing pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots?

Yes

Again, it's a question of funding. State budgets --in good times-- fund only a relatively small portion of worthy new initiatives. We need to place this and other reforms into some sort of priority order, and get them into the governor's budget. This might be hard to do in the coming biennium, but it remains a goal. Not much is funded off the table.


Once the leader in voter turnout, Maine is losing ground to states like Colorado that have modernized and made continuous improvements to their election systems. How will you help modernize Maine's election systems to better meet the needs of voters?

Maine may be losing ground to other states, but it's relative: we still have one of the nation's highest levels of voter turnout. We can do better, but are starting at a high level. Whatever we do here will ultimately depend on the cooperation and support of municipalities, but I would support online voter registration (as described above) more promotion of early voting (and codifying the ability of towns to process early ballots early), continued promotion of absentee voting and dropboxes, among other things. Elections are local, and the state has only a very limited role in them. I would however be receptive to any reforms that will make voting easier and more convenient without sacrificing security.


What reforms do you think are needed, if any, at the Department of the Secretary of State and how will you include black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) voices in these decisions?

The Department has been very well run, and I will work to support the staff in continuing their customer-focused work. Part of that would be to assure that the outward facing services of the Department are offered in a welcoming environment. This would include, among other things, making sure that materials are available in translation. Training for front-line and other staff should also include a component of cultural competency. On a broader scale, all of state government needs to work to assure that its workforce is reflective of the population. Given that there are perennial staff shortages in many parts of the state government it makes sense for the state's recruitment efforts to include outreach to new Mainers and other underrepresented communities. The Secretary of State's office should participate in any state workforce initiatives designed to accomplish this.


Would you like to add anything else?

Thank you for providing the opportunity to talk about this position.