“This is unacceptable”: Maine’s secretary of state stands defiant in the face of “non-stop threats"

“My decision was based exclusively on the facts presented to me at the hearing and my obligations under the law"

Published January 2, 2024 1:11PM (EST)
Updated January 2, 2024 8:48PM (EST)
Shenna Bellows and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Shenna Bellows and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

PORTLAND, MAINE — The morning after deciding former President Donald Trump is not eligible to appear on Maine’s presidential primary ballot this year, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows began receiving a barrage of violent threats. By the time a swatting incident targeting Bellows’ home occurred last Friday night, her office phones had been ringing off the hook all day.

“What was concerning on Friday was the level of vitriol and just abusive communications directed at my staff and furthermore the threatening communications targeting not only me but my family and people around me,” Bellows said in an interview.

She was doxxed. Her home address and personal cell phone — called constantly — were posted online. Trump’s Truth Social directed his followers to her official website.   

“The volume of calls seems to have been larger than the volume of emails,” Bellows said. “Civil servants working in state government shouldn't be on the receiving end of communications ranging from profanity to worse.”

Depending who you talk to in Maine, Bellows is either a courageous hero or a political hack for becoming the first state election official to ever disqualify a candidate for federal office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

"I made this decision based on the facts, the evidence, the law, and the Constitution, as presented in the hearing”

And there is very limited time — less than three weeks — to reverse her decision, for those that desire that outcome.

The Trump campaign has until this Friday, January 5, to appeal the Bellows decision to Maine Superior Court and plans to do so.

“Of course, I’m concerned for my safety,” said Bellows, who has police protection. “This is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that any elected official should be targeted just because people are angry or disagree with their views.”

Over the New Year’s holiday weekend, Bellows revealed in a Facebook post one of the “non-stop” threats had targeted her and her husband, Brandon, in the swatting incident — a phony emergency call to provoke an urgent police response — at their home in Manchester, Maine, four miles outside the capital of Augusta. They were not home.

After receiving an emergency call shortly after 8:00 p.m. Friday from an unknown man claiming to have broken into the home, Maine State Police searched it and the grounds but found no one or anything suspicious. 

Bellows wrote on Facebook the swatting and threats were “designed to scare not only me but also others into silence, to send a message.”

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“Please encourage those whom you influence to de-escalate the rhetoric,” Bellows continued on Facebook. “Dehumanizing a person is the first step in paving the way for attacks and violence against them.”

The Maine Democratic Party called the threats “deeply alarming,” noting that Bellows is “required to determine the eligibility and validity of petitions for public office,” including President, and did so for multiple candidates for the upcoming primary.

Bellows added in our interview, “For anyone who’s upset with the law that requires the Secretary of State to hold a hearing and issue a ruling on the eligibility of a presidential candidate, there’s a mechanism for changing the law. But to attack me for doing my job, and to attack, more importantly, my staff, the people around me, and my family, is wrong, and it needs to stop. It’s incredibly dangerous. It’s symptomatic of what’s happening right now in our country.  We need to stand up and urge everyone, our friends and family members, to bring civility and respect to these conversations.”


Bellows, a Democrat who denied Trump access to the state’s March 5 ballot as he seeks to secure the Republican presidential nomination in his third run for the White House, insists partisanship had nothing to do with her decision.

“My oath to the Constitution is my utmost and sole obligation in this matter. My political affiliation and political views of January 6, 2021, did not play a role in this decision,” Bellows said in our interview.

Her 34-page decision on December 28 found Trump’s declaration on his candidate consent form was false, because he is not qualified to hold the office of the President under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which forbids anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution after taking an oath to uphold it, unless forgiven in by two-thirds majority votes in the U.S. House and Senate.

“I do not reach this conclusion lightly. Democracy is sacred,” Bellows wrote in her decision.

Primaries and caucuses awarding delegates to the summer nomination conventions begin this month in Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Maine’s presidential primary is scheduled for March 5, along with 15 other states, which is why it’s called Super Tuesday. The list includes Colorado, where the State Supreme Court decided on December 19 Trump is ineligible for its primary ballot.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who was not a party to the decision, expressed solidarity with Bellows over the holiday weekend and revealed that she too has received threats.

“Within three weeks of the lawsuit being filed, I received 64 death threats. I stopped counting after that,” Griswold said on X. “I will not be intimidated. Democracy and peace will triumph over tyranny and violence.” 

Bellows, 48, is the first woman to serve as Maine’s Secretary of State

The Democratic-controlled State Legislature chose her, not the voters, in December 2020, as it also does for the state’s attorney general and treasurer under the Maine constitution. 

Bellows concluded a pair of Maine statutes governing ballot petition review grant her the authority to disqualify Trump.

Candidates must collect 2,000 signatures from voters registered in their party voters by December 1, and fill out a candidate consent form affirming, “I meet the qualifications to hold this office as listed above” — at least 35 years-old, a natural born U.S. citizen, and a resident of the United States for at least 14 years — as defined by the Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution.


The January 6 Capitol riot happened on Bellows’ third day on the job.

At the Maine State House on January 6, there were concerns of a potential copycat siege, as 85 to 100 Trump supporters gathered outside. But they dispersed without incident.

“In America, the voters pick our leaders. Not Congress, not an armed mob can overturn an election,” Bellows told me in an interview in her office on the State House grounds that day

She had been one of the four Maine electors who ratified the results the month before, casting her vote for Joe Biden. 

“These elections were some of the most secure we have seen in this country. The results were crystal clear. The Electoral College upheld the will of the people,” Bellows said on January 6.

For a story broadcast on the first anniversary of the Capitol attack, I interviewed Bellows about two bills she advocated for in order to protect election workers and voting machines. Both were passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Janet Mills. One made it a felony in Maine to threaten election workers or obstruct their duties. The other banned out-of-state groups from conducting post-election audits, as happened in Arizona after the 2020 presidential race. 

In a tweet linking to that story, Bellows wrote, “One year after the violent insurrection, it’s important to do all we can to safeguard our elections.” Trump’s lawyers flagged that tweet and other old social media posts by Bellows, on the eve of her ballot eligibility decision, to argue she was biased and should recuse herself. Bellows rejected the motion as untimely. It was past the deadline for evidentiary briefs and submissions.

Trump speeches and tweets were shown at the day-long December 19 public hearing that Bellows presided over at the State House.

“I made this decision based on the facts, the evidence, the law, and the Constitution, as presented in the hearing,” she told me.

Her decision disqualifying Trump bluntly assigned blame for the riot to the former president as the election-denier-in-chief and rejected the notion that the riot that stopped the Electoral College certification was a spontaneous event.

“The central question,” Bellows wrote in her decision, “is whether Mr. Trump’s statements and other conduct leading up to and including January 6…constitute incitement of insurrection.” 

Trump had sowed seeds of distrust in the election results months before Election Day by demonizing the demand for mail-in ballots that soared that year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Two-thirds of Maine voters cast absentee ballots in the 2020 general election.

“The record establishes that Mr. Trump, over the course of several months and culminating on January 6, 2021, used a false narrative of election fraud to inflame his supporters and direct them to the Capitol to prevent certification of the 2020 election and the peaceful transfer of power,” Bellows wrote in the decision. “Mr. Trump was aware of the likelihood for violence and at least initially supported its use given he both encouraged it with incendiary rhetoric and took no timely action to stop it.”

Threats to poll workers and election officials in Maine and around the country arose as Trump created a crisis of confidence in election integrity even before he refused to accept losing five swing states to Joe Biden that he had won in 2020 — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona.

In the end, Biden won 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. Biden won 51.3% of the national popular vote and 7 million more votes than Trump’s 46.9%. The elections of 2000, 2004, and 2016 were closer.

Around 10 Mainers have been prosecuted for participating in the Capitol riot, including Kyle Fitzsimons, who is now serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison primarily for assaulting law enforcement officers protecting the West Terrace entrance to the building.

In her decision, Bellows blamed Trump’s “stop the steal” and “fight like hell” rhetoric for the Capitol riot and found his limited comments as the violence unfolded insufficient at quelling the mob.

She concluded, “Mr. Trump’s occasional requests that rioters be peaceful and support law enforcement do not immunize his actions. A brief call to obey the law does not erase conduct over the course of months, culminating in his speech on the Ellipse. The weight of the evidence makes clear that Mr. Trump was aware of the tinder laid by his multi-month effort to delegitimize a democratic election, and then chose to light a match.”


The Maine challengers to Trump’s candidacy said Bellows’ decision showed “great courage” and “stood on the side of democracy and our constitution.”

“President Trump violated his presidential oath when he attempted to block the peaceful transfer of power by inciting an insurrection on January 6, 2021. For that act, as affirmed by both the Colorado Supreme Court and Secretary Bellows, our constitution bars him from forever again holding office in the United States,” former state legislators Ethan Strimiling, Tom Saviello, and Kim Rosen said in a written statement.  “We look forward to helping her defend her judicious and correct decision in court. No elected official is above the law or our constitution.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Chueng called Bellows, a former state senator, U.S. Senate candidate, and executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, “a virulent leftist and a hyper-partisan Biden-supporting Democrat” and described her decision as an “attempted theft of an election and the disenfranchisement of the American voter.”

Had Trump been convicted in his second impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate — in February 2021, for inciting the Capitol riot — he might have been barred from holding office again. 

Maine Senator Susan Collins was one of seven Republicans, along with all 50 Democrats and Independents, to vote for a guilty verdict, but 10 more Republicans were needed for the required two-thirds majority to convict. Collins, who opposes Trump’s candidacy in 2024, co-authored the Electoral Count Reform Act to make another January 6 scenario impossible by clarifying the limited, ministerial role of the vice president in the election ratification process. But Collins was quick to reject Bellows’ decision, posting on X, “Maine voters should decide who wins the election – not a Secretary of State chosen by the legislature. The Secretary of State’s decision would deny thousands of Mainers the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice, and it should be overturned.”

Democratic Representative Jared Golden, who represents the conservative-leaning 2nd Congressional District, which Trump carried in 2016 and 2020, securing one electoral vote each time, also disagreed with Bellows. Golden posted on X, “I voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection. I do not believe he should be re-elected President of the United States. However, we are a nation of laws, and therefore, until he is actually found guilty of the crime of insurrection, he should be allowed on the ballot.” 

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Maine Independent Senator Angus King, who is running for a third term in 2024, said he respected Bellows’ “careful process” but “absent a final judicial determination of a violation of the 14th Amendment’s disqualification clause, I believe the decision as to whether or not Mr. Trump should again be considered for the presidency should rest with the people as expressed in free and fair elections.”

The only member of the congressional delegation to back Bellows is Democratic Representative Chellie Pingree, who represents the liberal 1st Congressional District, encompassing Portland and Southern Maine.

“Donald Trump incited a violent mob to block Congress from certifying the Electoral College + overturn the 2020 presidential election,” Pingree posted on X. “The text of the Fourteenth Amendment is clear. No person who engaged in an insurrection against the government can ever again serve in elected office.”

The U.S. Supreme Court appears destined to consider the Maine and Colorado decisions and others barring Trump from the ballot.

So far, courts and election officials in California, Michigan, Minneota, Oregon, and other states have declined to block Trump from their 2024 ballots. GOP Senator Thom Tillis, of North Carolina, who called the Bellows decision “an egregious abuse of power,”plans to introduce a bill to impound federal election administration funds for states "misusing the 14th Amendment for political purposes."


Bellows suspended her decision until the Maine Superior Court, the Maine Supreme Court, and other venues, as necessary, have an opportunity to weigh in on appeals. 

But the timetable remains compressed. Maine’s presidential primary ballots, under state law, must be printed and sent to military and overseas voters 45 days before the election, or by January 20.

Bellows, whose term expires in 2025, ran for statewide elective office before, losing the 2014 U.S. Senate race against Collins. Governor Mills is serving her second and final term, and the next Maine gubernatorial election is in 2026.

When I asked Bellows if she considered the impact of her decision on any future political aspirations, she replied, “No.”

No consideration of the personal or political consequences?  “None.”

She’s told me she’s not worried about being impeached or losing the trust of voters as being a reliable source of election information.

Bellows, who is not a lawyer, is receiving legal counsel from the office of Maine’s Attorney General. 

“This is my decision,” Bellows said in our interview. “My decision was based exclusively on the facts presented to me at the hearing and my obligations under the law and the Constitution."

By Phil Hirschkorn

Phil Hirschkorn is covering the Trump trial for ITV News in the U.K.

MORE FROM Phil Hirschkorn

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