AUGUSTA — An attorney for U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn told a judge Wednesday that Maine’s secretary of state went too far when he eliminated entire sheets of Linn’s nominating petitions because some signatures were deemed invalid.
ennebec County District Court Judge William Stokes said he would rule soon on Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s determination that Linn failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for the June 12 Republican primary. After re-examining petition sheets flagged by the campaign of Linn’s would-be Republican primary opponent, state Sen. Eric Brakey, Dunlap invalidated 258 of Linn’s original 2,248 petition signatures, leaving him 10 short of the minimum needed to qualify.
The two men are vying for their party’s nomination to challenge Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent, in November. Also running is Democrat Zak Ringelstein.
Linn’s attorney, Steven Juskewitch, agreed again on Wednesday that “there is no question that there was fraud” committed in regard to some of the petition signatures. But without naming names or going into specifics, Juskewitch said evidence suggests that the fraud did not involve the petition circulators responsible for gathering signatures from registered Republicans but, instead, involved someone adding signatures at a later time. As a result, he argued, Dunlap was wrong to invalidate entire sheets of some circulators without proving they were to blame.
“There is fraudulent stuff here, but you can’t point to a circulator,” Juskewitch said.
Stokes had ordered Dunlap to reopen an investigation into Linn’s qualifying signatures using new evidence submitted by Brakey’s campaign. On Wednesday, Stokes appeared skeptical of Juskewitch’s arguments at times.
The judge pointed out that Dunlap found sufficient numbers of alleged signatures from deceased individuals, people living outside of the U.S. and from voters who said they never signed to undermine the integrity of the circulators’ petition sheets.
“How much more does he need?” Stokes asked Juskewitch. “It’s not a criminal case. He doesn’t have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Josh Tardy, an attorney for Brakey’s campaign, said there was more than enough evidence to call into question the validity of the oath that circulators are required to sign attesting that they followed the law when gathering signatures. In fact, Tardy said he believes the number of potentially invalid signatures could be more like 800 to 900, not the 258 tossed out by Dunlap.
Representing the Secretary of State’s Office, Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner also pointed out that Linn’s campaign only called up one circulator to challenge Brakey’s push to invalidate additional signatures. Dunlap found that circulator’s explanations credible during Tuesday’s hearing and, therefore, deemed many of those signatures valid.
“The candidate had a chance to respond, and when he did, it made a difference,” Gardiner told Stokes. “Where he didn’t, the inferences stand.”
Brakey, R-Auburn, is seeking to head off a primary challenge from Linn, a financial planner from Bar Harbor who has closely aligned himself with the policies of President Trump.
The race has turned particularly nasty in the weeks since Brakey’s campaign manager David Boyer submitted documents questioning the validity of large numbers of Linn’s qualifying signatures. Linn, who is self-funding his campaign to date, has responded by repeatedly referring to Brakey as “Cowardly Eric.”
Both campaigns have said they believe the Attorney General’s Office should investigate the alleged fraudulent activity committed by some involved in Linn’s petition signature drive.
If Stokes upholds Dunlap’s decision, the Linn campaign could attempt to appeal the case to Maine’s Supreme Court.
Eric Brakey, left, and Max Linn