A federal judge on Friday rejected a request by supporters of Max Linn to declare that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap violated the law when he rejected nominating petitions bearing their signatures and disqualified Linn from the June 12 Republican U.S. Senate primary.
The ruling killed Linn’s hopes to run against state Sen. Eric Brakey for the Republican nomination for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent seeking his second term this November.
Within minutes of the decision, Linn announced plans to run against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in a 2020 primary.
The lawsuit alleges that Dunlap improperly used “guilt by association” when he tossed out entire sheets of petition signatures because some signatures on the sheets were believed to be fraudulent.
“The purported justification of the secretary in invalidating the disqualified signatures was the concern that they might be ‘tainted’ by fraud because they appeared on the petition forms in which some signatures were properly invalidated,” reads the lawsuit. “In essence, the secretary drew an inference of fraud and disqualified signatures as to which there was no actual evidence of fraud, based solely on the fact that they were on the same piece of paper as the invalid signatures.”
But U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen, ruling in a Portland court, refused the request for a preliminary injunction aimed at preventing Dunlap from notifying voters at the polls Tuesday that Linn’s candidacy was invalid. Torresen heard brief oral arguments from George Marcus, the attorney representing Linn’s supporters and Maine Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner, representing Dunlap. She then ruled it was unlikely that Linn’s supporters would prevail were their case to move forward. The judge cited previous federal case law, including cases settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal court in Illinois and a previous federal court case in Maine.
Torresen said Dunlap’s decision to void entire petitions where fraudulent signatures had been identified was well within his discretion, as previously decided by both a Kennebec County Superior Court Justice and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
“The practice of voiding petitions where a circulator’s oath is tainted by fraud or the appearance of fraud has been repeatedly upheld,” Torresen said, quoting a previous federal court ruling. “The state’s interests here are significant and they are well-recognized. The state has the undoubted right to require candidates to make a preliminary showing of substantial support in order to qualify for a place on the ballot because it is both wasteful and confusing to encumber the ballot with the names of frivolous candidates.”
She said the U.S. Supreme Court has also previously ruled that a state’s interest in protecting the integrity of the electoral process is, “undoubtedly important.”
Torresen said in the Linn case, “…the threat of fraud is not merely hypothetical.”
“During the state court proceedings Mr. Dunlap received evidence that dozens of signatures on Mr. Linn’s petitions belonged to individuals who were dead or were penned by someone other than the supposed signator,” Torresen said.
A Bar Harbor resident running under the slogan “Trump Strong,” Linn fell 10 signatures short of the 2,000 needed to qualify for the June 12 ballot after Brakey’s campaign presented evidence that petition sheets included signatures of dead voters as well as forgeries. Linn and his attorney acknowledged there was fraud perpetrated by someone gathering or notarizing petition signatures on the campaign’s behalf.
Following the Torresen’s ruling, Marcus said he was unsure whether his clients would appeal. Gardiner said only that she was glad the issue had been settled before the primary election.
Dunlap said he would have been surprised if the federal courts had agreed to take up the issue because election law is typically a state’s responsibility. “There really was nothing for the federal government to weigh in on,” Dunlap said. “This is a state election process.”
Not long after the ruling by Torrensen, Linn’s campaign, which has continued despite the candidate being invalidated by Dunlap, tweeted out he would challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in 2020.
“Senator Collins days of warmongering, supporting bailouts, globalist open border policies, and aligning herself with the Trump/Russia conspiracy are numbered. It’s time for a #TrumpStrong candidate to represent Maine in the U.S. Senate,” Linn’s campaign tweeted.
Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:
Max Linn (From Max Linn’s campaign Facebook page)