Maine State Police are investigating a possible case of weekend vandalism at the Minot Town Office in which the only destruction was two candidates' petitions.
Oddly, the petitions had nothing in common. The candidates represent two different political parties and are running in two different races.
"It's totally baffling what's going on, why it would happen" said Town Administrator Arlan Saunders. "The only thing I can say is the Maine State Police are taking it quite seriously."
In order to run for office, Maine candidates are required to obtain a number of signatures from registered voters. Those signed petitions are validated by the town in which voters are registered and then they are sent to the Secretary of State's Office.
Saunders said nothing was amiss when a cleaning person emptied the town office trash around 1 p.m. Sunday. But the assistant town clerk found the petitions torn and in the trash when she arrived at 9 a.m. Monday.
One petition was for Republican Garrett Mason, who is running for the state Senate District 17 seat. That seat represents most of Androscoggin County, except for Lewiston, Auburn and Durham. Mason's petition had eight signatures on it.
The other petition was for Democrat Eric Samson, who is running for Androscoggin Country sheriff. Samson's petition had about 19 or 20 signatures on it.
Both petitions were due to the Secretary of State's Office by the end of the day Monday.
Unsure what to do about the signatures, Saunders called the Secretary of State's Office and the chairman of the Minot Board of Selectmen. He was advised to call the Sheriff's Office, which contacted the Attorney General's Office and then requested the Maine State Police take over the investigation since there was a potential conflict of interest — one of the petitions was for the sheriff's race and Samson currently works in the department as program director.
No windows were broken and there were no other signs of a forced entry. Concerned whoever is responsible had a key, Saunders had the town office's locks changed by closing time.
"I'm sitting here saying 'I'd still like to go to lunch,'" Saunders joked at 4 p.m. "It's been very hectic, a lot of people going in and out."
Maine State Police Lt. Walter Grzyb said it's unclear whether someone broke into the building to destroy the paperwork or whether it could have been destroyed and thrown out by accident by someone in the building. But because it could be vandalism and because it involves election documents, the police continue to investigate.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap called the situation "very uncommon" and said his office takes any destruction of election materials very seriously.
For at least a little while Monday, Mason, the Senate candidate, was concerned about losing his Minot petition. He needed 100 signatures. He only had 97. The eight in Minot could have meant the difference between running and not.
"I was a little worried," he said. "It was very important."
Mason, it turned out, received additional signatures in Turner, so he made his quota even without the Minot eight. Still, he said, "I think it's really unfortunate. We have a system of government in our state and it's unfortunate that someone would disrupt that."
Samson didn't need the 19 or 20 signatures on his petition. He was required to have 150 signatures and he already had 166. But he'd counted on the Minot signatures as a cushion, just in case.
"You expect unusual things to happen," he said. "I can't say I expected this."
Saunders said the signatures on the destroyed petitions will still count for each candidate.