AUGUSTA — Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap has declared that U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn is not eligible for the June 12 primary after more voter signatures on the Republican’s nominating petitions were declared invalid during a hearing Tuesday, leaving the Bar Harbor businessman shy of the number needed to qualify for the ballot and raising the possibility of a criminal investigation.
It was the second hearing that Dunlap has held in the matter, and the secretary of state now has invalidated 258 of Linn’s original total of 2,248 petition signatures. That left him with 1,990 valid signatures, which is 10 fewer than the minimum required to qualify for the primary.
It’s too late to remove Linn’s name from the ballot, Dunlap said in a statement issued after Tuesday’s hearing, but voters will be notified at the polls that he is no longer a candidate.
Tuesday’s two-hour hearing also revealed that some of the invalid voter signatures may have been fraudulently added to Linn’s petitions, and the Maine Attorney General’s Office may open a criminal investigation into the nominating petitions. Dunlap will decide whether to make that recommendation to Kennebec County Superior Court Justice William Stokes during a hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Linn’s nominating papers were first called into question by the campaign of state Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican who also is seeking the nomination to challenge incumbent Sen. Angus King, an independent, in the November general election. Democrat Zak Ringelstein also is running against King.
LINN’S ATTORNEY: ‘THERE WAS FRAUD’
Dunlap had determined during the first hearing last month that more than 200 of Linn’s signatures were invalid, from voters no longer alive or were forgeries, but he still had 2,018 signatures. However, Brakey’s campaign appealed Dunlap’s decision in Kennebec County Superior Court, and last Friday, Stokes ordered Dunlap’s office to accept new evidence from the Brakey campaign.
Brakey’s campaign contested the validity of 46 signatures on Linn’s petitions, contending that they were duplicates, from voters who were not registered Republicans or voters who were deceased.
During the hearing Tuesday, Steven Juskewitch, an attorney with the Linn campaign, agreed there was evidence of fraud, but said there was no indication the fraud was committed by those who circulated nominating petitions for Linn. Instead, Juskewitch implied that faked and forged signatures were added after notaries public had certified the petitions.
“We all know there was fraud,” Juskewitch said. But he said if Dunlap was going to invalidate Linn’s candidacy, he was obligated to prove the fraud was committed specifically by the circulators who gathered the signatures.
Josh Tardy, an attorney for the Brakey campaign, disputed that point and argued there was no limit on Dunlap. “Proof of fraud is what you need to find,” Tardy said. “The integrity of the process – the microscope is on us, and I would urge you to sustain the challenge. … I think the public is very much watching.”
LINN’S CAMPAIGN ‘IRREVOCABLY DAMAGED’
In order to qualify for the primary ballot, candidates need to submit petitions signed by 2,000 registered party voters.
The petitions are circulated in the community by people who gather voters’ printed names, signatures and addresses. The circulators then attest before a notary public that they witnessed the signing of the petitions.
The notarized petitions are given to local voter registrars, usually town clerks, who verify that the signatures on the petitions are those of voters registered in the appropriate party. The petitions are then transported to the secretary of state, who verifies that the process has been completed.
Linn said Tuesday that he didn’t know for certain who transported his petitions to Dunlap’s office. He did say that Stavros Mendros, a notary public and former Republican state lawmaker who worked for the campaign, and Matthew McDonald, the campaign’s communications and social media director, transported some of the ballots March 15.
“We got a hole in the system and I suppose if it doesn’t get fixed it can be abused again,” Juskewitch said. “Mr. Linn’s campaign has been perhaps irrevocably damaged. That’s certainly not the fault of the Brakey campaign, so in a sense we can’t hold that against them.”
Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at: