Justin Chenette

Justin Chenette

State Senator

Why should you be Secretary of State?

As Maine’s next Secretary of State, I will fight for an open and transparent government, high ethical standards for public officials, continued integrity of our electoral process, stronger campaign finance laws, new Democracy reform initiatives, promote civics education statewide, and increase overall voter registration and participation. We must build on the good work of Secretary Dunlap who is a true steward of our Democracy and someone I have the utmost respect for.

For the past 8 years I’ve served in the legislature where my singular focus has been to shape a more ethical state house where government works on the side of Maine. This past session, as co-chair of the Democracy reform caucus, I was responsible for ushering in comprehensive campaign finance reform. This included a ban on lobbyist contributions to legislative candidates, eliminated PAC slush funds, tackled the revolving door of former lawmakers becoming lobbyists, and enabled the Maine Ethics Commission to enforce rules over Caucus PACs. It’s critical our next Secretary of State prioritizes getting dark money out of politics, reduces lobbyist influence over our government, and stops election interference from foreign entities like Hydro-Quebec. The integrity of our electoral and governmental systems is at stake.

Building partnerships has been at the core of my legislative service. Chairing various legislative committees has put me in a position to bring people together to get things done. Specifically, as the Chairman of the bipartisan Government Oversight Committee, I’ve had the opportunity to work with various commissioners and department-level staff to ensure accountability, transparency, and effectiveness of programs. I bring to the table experience in strategic planning, goal setting, assessing evaluation metrics, and implementing policies, procedures, and programmatic reforms.

As the first student member on the Maine State Board of Education, I fought to get civics education more included in our curriculum. I even launched a nonprofit organization, Maine Democracy Project, to empower a new generation of voters, advocates, and leaders through youth voter registration and civics education efforts and wrote a children’s book to talk to kids about how their government works. We need this sense of creativity when crafting student programs at the Secretary of State’s office.

I decided not to run for re-election to the Senate, specifically to avoid our party having to field a special election in the middle of a pandemic if I was ultimately selected. I chose instead to run exclusively for this role, a role that incorporates everything I have fought so hard for, for nearly a decade.

As Secretary of State, Democracy reform, campaign finance reform, and civics education will be at the core of my service.


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

Yes

We’ve seen with this pandemic a need to make it easier to register to vote that doesn’t involve physically bringing your voter registration card and supporting documents down to your local town hall. According to NCSL, a total of 40 states and D.C. offer online registration. Maine is the outlier. When you can carry out so many government related activities safely and securely online nowadays, it makes sense to offer this convenient way of promoting civic participation in our politics. It’s the same process you’d have to do currently, the only difference is that it’s paperless and done from the convenience of your home. It also hopes to make it easier on our local clerks. Individuals would still have the option of going to their town office and filing out the paperwork in person.


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

No

While I support cross checking voter registration information between states to ensure accuracy, I am hesitant to turn over Mainers’ private voter information over to a third-party organization. Instead, I would explore other means of modernizing our elections and safeguarding the integrity of our elections.


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

Yes

While I think every municipality should have secure drop off boxes for absentee ballots, I do believe we should also avoid any semblance of a poll tax when it comes to mailing back your ballot. With a record number of individuals choosing to either vote early or return an absentee ballot because of the public health crisis, we should be looking at ways to streamline processes going forward. Paying for postage for mail-in-ballots ensures everyone can participate regardless of socioeconomic status or ability to visit the Post Office to purchase stamps. This reduces the barrier to voting and increases the likelihood of 100% return of absentee ballots.


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?

The next Secretary of State will be responsible for implementing automatic voter registration, a bill I co-sponsored with Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. This will reduce administrative redundancy, better secure of our voter rolls, and increase voter participation.

I will be a progressive reformer in the office as a strong legislative partner in advancing policies that strengthen our Democratic institutions. We need to make Election Day a holiday, implement permanent absentee ballot voting where you automatically receive a ballot once you sign up, provide grants for high speed tabulators, expand youth voting rights, keep the extended ballot counting time for municipal clerks, and ensure election audits similar to how the Maine Ethics Commission audits campaign finance reports.

We must also respect the will of the voters and protect and expand Ranked Choice Voting to all races. Maine became the first state in the entire country to use Ranked Choice Voting in the presidential race because of a bill I co-sponsored with Senate President Troy Jackson.


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 Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Tribal Populations is an ideal vehicle to flush out legislation and department level reforms to ensure we are addressing racial disparities in all three branches of government. It’s not as a simple as passing one specific bill or reform, everything we do needs to be put through the prism of how this lifts up all people and empowers people of color. Having served on the legislative work group over the summer to help review legislation to advise commission members on a draft plan of action, this discussion and stakeholder engagement with individuals directly impacted by these policies, will create a more inclusive government and ultimately yield to better policy outcomes. We have my legislative colleague, Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, to thank for keeping this top of mind and passing the bill to create this commission. From an electoral standpoint, we need to constantly be pushing back on attempts to pass discriminatory policies like voter ID laws, which have been known to negatively impact people of color and their ability to fulfill their civic duty. I have voted against every one of these bills in the legislature and will publicly oppose any similar attempts as Secretary of State. The electoral reforms such as online voter registration, automatic voter registration, permanent absentee ballot voting, making Election Day a holiday, and allowing ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted will also reduce the barriers to the ballot box for all Mainers and hopefully increase voter participation amongst new Mainers and people of color.


Would you like to add anything else?

Not to be overlooked, but a key aspect of the job is empowering and educating students to be aware of our elections and government. We need to overhaul our student outreach efforts.

By revamping both the 8th grade citizenship award and the student mock election, we can ensure 100% participation statewide. With the student mock election, we should create more digitally based experiences. Why not make voter registration fun? Let’s create a high school voter registration competition to spur engagement. I also plan to visit every college campus, virtually or otherwise, every year to provide newly created toolkits to register students to vote and discuss college voter rights. For civics-based learning, we need grants for schools to send 4th graders up to the state house for experiential learning. We should also bring a program calls ‘Kid Governor’ to Maine, where we create a simulation for 5th graders to experience an election and research issues important to them. Let’s make civics come alive for Maine’s next generation! I am currently a coalition partner with CivXNow, a program of iCivics and sit on their state policy task force, working on civics education nationally.