Barbara Merrill qualifies for a spot on the ballot in November.

LEWISTON – Barbara Merrill became the first independent candidate for governor this year to qualify for the ballot.

Merrill, a former Democrat and one-term state representative from Appleton, submitted 4,451 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday, 451 more than required.

With Merrill, there will be at least four people seeking the Blaine House this year: Incumbent Democrat John Baldacci; the winner of the Republican primary contest between former Congressman Dave Emery of Tenants Harbor, state Sen. Peter Mills of Skowhegan and state Sen. Chandler Woodcock of Farmington; and Green Independent Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth.

“We collected well over 5,000 signatures,” Merrill said. “Everyday, I would go to the mail and people were sending in nominating petition. … I really had to rely on my army of volunteers.”

While Merrill has successfully overcome the first major hurdle of her campaign, much work remains as she tries to qualify for public financing. To be certified as a Maine Clean Election candidate, she needs to collect 2,500 $5 contributions to the Maine Clean Elections fund made out on her behalf. As of Wednesday, she had just shy of 1,700 checks, she said.

“It’s hugely difficult,” Merrill said of qualifying for public financing. “I think we’re going to make it.”

Merrill announced that she was leaving the Democratic Party and running as an independent for governor in January. Since then, she’s had to balance her legislative duties in Augusta against her need to be on the campaign trail collecting signatures and $5 checks, all without the traditional structure that supports party candidates.

“When it comes to running as an independent, a lot of the people you’re appealing to are unenrolled,” Merrill said. “By definition, they’re people who haven’t been involved in campaigns before.”

That lack of experience with the process, she said, makes collecting the qualifying contributions more difficult. “The collection of the $5 checks is really complicated. People really don’t understand it. But the party activists really know how to do it.”

“It’s a lot of work, and it should be a lot of work,” Merrill said.

The deadline to submit the qualifying contributions to the ethics commission is June 2, but Merrill said that functionally she has less time than that because of the paperwork and research that goes into confirming each contribution.

“The bottom line is that I’m appealing to the public to help me reach the finish line,” Merrill said. “My goal, really, is to be independent of not only a political party but also large donors.”

While Merrill says she thinks she’ll collect the necessary contributions, she hasn’t decided what to do if she doesn’t.

“If I don’t make it, I will have to re-evaluate,” Merrill said.

Five other independent candidates have declared their intention to seek public financing: John Michael, who ran in 2002; John Jenkins; Alex Hammer; Jeffrey Sanborn and David John Jones.

No independent besides Merrill had submitted nominating petitions as of Wednesday afternoon. The deadline for submitting signatures to the Secretary of State to get on the ballot is June 1.