Maine’s Secretary of State, Matt Dunlap, addressed members of the Lewiston and Bates community Wednesday night in Muskie Archives. Though Dunlap has been involved in state government for decades, he recently received a large amount of national media attention after he was named as a member of a commission created by President Donald Trump to investigate voter fraud in the 2016 election. Dunlap eventually sued the commission, which disbanded shortly thereafter, a situation which was the main topic of discussion on Wednesday.
The talk began with an introduction by Harwood Center Director Peggy Rotundo, followed by a thirty-minute discussion between Dunlap and Bates politics professor John Baughman. The talk concluded with Dunlap taking time to answer audience questions.
Dunlap began the talk by discussing his typical duties as Maine’s Secretary of State, along with the experiences that lead to his ascendance to the office. He spoke about his time at the University of Maine in Orono and as a mill worker before getting involved in politics, as well his current job duties that involve overseeing state elections.
Last year, Dunlap was given a surprising proposition when Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who Dunlap gets along with well personally, but disagrees with politically, offered him a position on a commission that he was chairing to investigate voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. Despite not believing that any widespread fraud had occurred during the election, Dunlap agreed.
Though Dunlap, a Democrat, said that he faced a backlash from many of his usual supporters when he agreed to join the Commission on Voter Fraud, he felt that it was an important opportunity to his and others’ (who have similar views) voices to be represented on the commission and to ultimately highlight the lack of widespread fraud in America.
“They [election workers] perform it with a religious zeal. They want to get it right. And we do get it right…the idea that there’s widespread voter fraud is more of a myth,” said Dunlap.
According to Dunlap, his tenure in the commission was marred by a lack of both transparency and communication from the commission’s leaders: Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence. At one point, Dunlap said that he was chastised by another member of the commission and accused of being a leaker for giving a journalist information about the date of an upcoming commission meeting; information that Dunlap said should have legally been available to the public. Dunlap jokingly said that the situation was similar to being accused of “leaking a press release.”
Eventually, Dunlap found that commission leaders were leaving him out of planning and ignoring his requests for more information. The most significant, and humorous, example that Dunlap offered was an occasion where he found out second-hand that an activist group was set to speak at a commission meeting that he had not been invited to. Dunlap found the situation disheartening, illegal, and in sharp contrast to the more open and bipartisan approach taken in Maine state politics.
“I come from Maine, where we pick up the phone and figure it out,” said Dunlap.
After spending some time reflecting, and with the encouragement of a congressman, who, Dunlap says, reached out to him secretly through a Facebook message from their Chief of Staff, Dunlap sued his own commission for the information he felt that he, and the American people, were entitled to. Rather than give it to him, the commission disbanded. The lawsuit, however, is still pending.
The Voter Fraud Commission was created by executive order by President Trump to investigate his repeated claim that three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 Presidential election, which prevented Trump from winning the popular vote. To date, no evidence has been found to support Trump’s claim. In addition to the logistical issues discussed by Dunlap on Wednesday, the commission had a difficult time getting many states to give them the information that they requested; a reason that Trump ultimately noted in a tweet was the reason for the commission dissolution.