AUGUSTA — A judge ordered Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap on Friday to reopen his investigation in the case of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn.
Superior Court Justice William Stokes told Dunlap’s office to accept new evidence from the campaign of Eric Brakey, a state senator from Auburn who is also seeking the Republican Party’s nomination to be its U.S. Senate candidate in November. Both men are hoping to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who is seeking his second term. Also on the fall ballot against King will be Democrat Zak Ringelstein.
Brakey’s campaign filed a complaint against Linn’s campaign in March, contending that Linn’s nominating petitions did not have enough valid voter signatures and included fake signatures from voters who had died years ago. After a hearing at which both Brakey and Linn presented their cases, Dunlap invalidated 11 petitions and more than 200 signatures.
However, Dunlap also determined that Linn had enough valid voter signatures – just 18 more than the required 2,000 – to remain on the June 12 primary ballot with Brakey.
Brakey’s campaign appealed Dunlap’s decision on April 10 and recently asked to allow new evidence to be presented to the court or to Dunlap. On Friday, Stokes determined that the evidence should be reviewed by Dunlap in a new hearing, which will be scheduled for early next week.
David Boyer, a spokesman for Brakey’s campaign, said Friday they had discovered at least another 20 signatures that they believe are invalid or did not come from registered Republican voters as required by law.
Linn, a financial planner from Bar Harbor, has claimed that Brakey’s campaign planted the fake signatures in an attempt to discredit his campaign. However, Dunlap said he found no evidence of that when he determined Linn still had enough valid signatures to remain on the ballot. Linn is a relative newcomer to Maine politics but has previously been involved in political campaigns in other states, including Florida.
“We definitely feel vindicated,” Boyer said after Stokes’ order Friday. “We are glad that the court is allowing new evidence to be submitted. We’ve found enough signatures to make up the difference and disqualify Max Linn from the ballot. He did not collect enough signatures; whether it was from fraud, forgery or folks just not being Republicans, he didn’t get there and shouldn’t be on the ballot.”
But even if Dunlap, after an additional hearing and new evidence, determines Linn did not qualify for the ballot, his name could still appear on it, as ballots are already being prepared and printed for the June election.
Phyllis Gardiner, an assistant attorney general representing the Secretary of State’s Office, said the law only requires Dunlap to print new ballots if a candidate is disqualified more than 60 days before an election. As of Friday, the June primary was only 52 days away.
“Regardless of the outcome here we do not anticipate being in a position to change what is printed on the ballot,” Gardiner said. “But there would be notice, provided if there was a change, if the candidate were to become disqualified, then there would be notices provided to all voters, absentee as well as at the voting places.”
Linn asked Stokes if he might also be allowed to present new evidence to Dunlap, but Stokes said he would leave that up to Dunlap’s office to decide.
“Look, the idea here is to make sure that we make as accurate a decision as possible,” Stokes said. “I’m sure the secretary of state feels that way. That’s the whole purpose of this process, to make sure that you have an accurate and reliable petition process. I’m not going to tell the secretary of state how to run it. But the overarching goal here is to make sure the nomination process is fair, accurate and reliable.”
Linn declined to speak to reporters following the hearing Friday in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Maine Sen. Eric Brakey, of Auburn, left, and fellow Republican Max Linn, both of whom are seeking the party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent.