Secretary of State Bellows to testify before Congress on voter rights bill Thursday

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Colin Woodard, Portland Press Herald, Maine
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Feb. 23—Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows will testify before Congress on Thursday afternoon on the Democrats' high-profile electoral reform package, which seeks to reduce the role of money in politics while increasing access and voting rights.

Bellows, the state's senior elections official, will testify about Maine's experiences with many of the key measures that H.R.1 would institute across the country: same-day voter registration; allowing full voting rights to convicts and former convicts; "no excuse" absentee voting; and the use of paper ballots to verify vote tallies.

"I'm thrilled to be testifying, because H.R. 1 is a watershed moment for our democracy," Bellows told the Press Herald on Tuesday. "Jan. 6 demonstrated the fragility of our democracy and also its strengths, and I think people across the state and nation are taking time to reflect on how we strengthen American democracy."

H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021, was introduced Jan. 4, two days before President Trump encouraged insurrectionists to storm the Capitol to overturn the 2020 election. If passed, it would represent the most substantial voting rights reform in decades.

The U.S. House's Committee on House Administration announced via Twitter on Tuesday afternoon that Bellows would participate in the hearing alongside former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, whom many observers credit with flipping that state against Trump in November and his Senatorial allies in the January runoff elections.

Abrams, the founder and chair of the anti-voter-suppression group Fair Fight Action, tweeted that she was honored to be testifying alongside Bellows and a third witness, Duke University law professor Guy-Uriel Charles.

Bellows said she received the invitation after a meeting this month of the National Association of Secretaries of State, where she answered questions from members of the committee staff.

According to Bellows' prepared testimony, she will discuss Maine's positive experiences with many voting reforms and practices, which have contributed to the state having among the highest voter participation rates in the country. She will also argue that it encourages broader participation in politics generally, pointing out that she is the daughter of a carpenter and grew up in a house without electricity or running water.

"Our Senate president is a working-class logger. Maine's speaker of the House is 28 years old, the first openly gay speaker, who speaks about growing up poor, the son of a single working mom," she will tell the committee. "I tell schoolchildren who used to visit the Capitol on tours before the pandemic that in Maine you can grow up to be whoever you want to be regardless of where you came from and how much money you have."

The hearing, which will be conducted virtually, starts at 4 p.m.