To Remove A Candidate From A Ballot: Part I

Patrick McCorkle
6 min readDec 30, 2023

Maine just joined Colorado in removing Donald Trump from its 2024 presidential primary election ballot.

These decisions will be challenged and brought through the court system, most likely ending up with the Supreme Court. Trump is back on the ballot in Colorado while his challenges make their way through the state system.

Before I begin, I’d like to provide a public service announcement:

It’s possible to disagree with a legal decision against Trump and not support the man himself.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows explained her reasons for Trump’s removal in a 34 page ruling. Most of it is beyond the scope of the article, but I encourage you to go through with it if you have the time. Much of her argument is based on the 14th Amendment’s insurrection clause, which is as follows:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Per Politico: “The insurrectionist clause was adopted after the Civil War, primarily as a way to prevent former Confederate leaders from retaking the reins of power in Washington and in the states. It has rarely been deployed in any other context and has never been applied to a presidential candidate.”

The section titled “the record demonstrates that the events of January 6, 2021 were an insurrection” spans from pages 23–26. At this point, many in the U.S. take that point for granted, considering the actions of those who stormed the Capitol and the damages they caused.

Defined by Merriam Webster, an insurrection is “an act or instance of revolting against against civil authority or an established government.” Bellows makes a convincing case as to why January 6th was an insurrection, rather than a riot or protest.

My issues lie with the following section, titled “the record demonstrates that Mr. Trump engaged in the insurrection of January 6, 2021.” Bellow cites a December 15, 2023 hearing at the Maine State House, with testimony from key witnesses:

“Professor (Gerard) Magliocca (of Indiana University) defined ‘engaged in’ as a voluntary act, by word or deed, in furtherance of an insurrection, including words of incitement…. Contemporaneous hearings from Attorney General (Henry) Stansbery (of the United States, 1866–1868) suggest that having engaged in insurrection did not require ‘having levied war or taken arms’ but rather was understood broadly to include official action ‘in furtherance of the common unlawful purpose’ or ‘any overt act for the purpose of promoting the rebellion,’ including ‘inciting others to act accordingly by speech or by writing.”

Bellow concludes that ‘engaged in insurrection’ includes incitement. She cites a variety of Trump’s public statements that “sowed doubt in the legitimacy” of the 2020 election months before November. Specifically, she states that Trump claimed the election was stolen from him, pressured Republicans to overturn the results and extolled his supporters to “SAVE AMERICA” and “fight on!”

While I agree that Trump sowed doubt in the election’s legitimacy, there are many politicians who have engaged in similar rhetoric. Trump is far from the first to argue that elections were stolen with rampant cases of voter fraud. What makes Trump more unique is the violence that occurred after months of his speeches, rallies and Tweets, or so the claim goes.

A November 14, 2020 rally and march between Trump supporters and counter protestors turned violent, leading to stabbings and over 20 arrests.

Bellows continues: “On December 19, 2020, fully aware of how his words and deeds had bred violence and threatened more, Mr. Trump announced a rally in Washington on January 6, 2021 to protest certification of the election results.”

This reasoning is unfair, as it ascribes too much responsibility to Trump himself. Did his constant banging on the drum about voter fraud, voting machines and the like raise the temperature in an already tense environment? Yes. Have many found these theories to be unfounded? Yes.

Did Trump mind control these people into attacking each other? No. Does vague rhetoric about saving the country and fighting onward mean he ‘bred violence?’ No.

Bellows doesn’t discuss the possibility that the counter protestors were violent, nor does she mention the countless lawsuits that the Trump legal team had filed contesting the 2020 election in this timeframe. Working through the legal system is a peaceful, non-insurrectionist way to settle disputes.

Bellows then lists a variety of Trump’s phrasing in his speech and his tweets on January 6. I agree that they were often aggressive and ‘threw kindling on the fire.’ But as already stated, Trump filed many lawsuits to work through his election grievances peacefully, plus had never said anything explicit about violence or overthrowing the government. In his speech, he did call his followers to ‘fight like hell’ because ‘if you don’t you’re not going to have a country anymore ‘ but also asked them to ‘walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.’ and ‘I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.’

Finally, Bellows cites Trump’s slowness in mobilizing law enforcement or the National Guard. I agree that Trump acted too slow. It’s also puzzling why more security forces weren’t initially available, which is a saga unto itself. In sum, a bipartisan Senate report states that “Capitol Police were heavily compromised by multiple failures — bad intelligence, poor planning, faulty equipment and a lack of leadership” and “the Department of Defense’s response was ‘informed by criticism’ of its heavy handed response to the protests of the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd in police custody.’

There was a lot more going on with Capitol Police and law enforcement on January 6th that just Trump and his grievances with the 2020 election.

Furthermore, with unknowns surrounding Trump’s activities after he left the rally, it’s unfair to use the delays as evidence that he was engaged in insurrection. It’s disingenuous how Bellows omits the fact that then Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s 3:36pm EST Tweet that the National Guard and other agencies were on their way to the Capitol.

Bellows wraps up her ruling as follows:

“I conclude, as did the Colorado Supreme Court, 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 peaceful certification of the 2020 election and the peaceful transfer of power.

I likewise conclude that 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.

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, then chose to light a match.”

Bellows’s claims outstrip the evidence. She cites one example of violence before the January 6 — the November 14 rally/march. While concerning, and Trump could have done more to condemn it, that was the only incident. Trump tweeted constantly, reinforcing crazy theories to many but that were true to him and his supporters. It is his right to protest what he believes to be an unfair election, as unsettling as his process is to many, including myself. There has been no ‘smoking gun’ that proves Trump knew he lost yet continued onward with his claims.

Trump deserves plenty of criticism for his behavior surrounding the 2020 election, but I don’t believe that he has ‘engaged in insurrection’ or should be removed from the ballot.

In my next post, I detail why the decisions of Colorado and Maine disturb me so much.

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Patrick McCorkle

I am a young professional with keen interests in politics, history, foreign languages and the arts.