LEWISTON — Stavros Mendros, a former state lawmaker and city councilor who has been in the hot seat for questionable signature-gathering campaigns in the past is again at the center of a controversy over a ballot question drive.

David Boyer, the director of a citizen petition campaign that’s hoping to ask Maine voters to legalize marijuana for recreational use in November, said Friday his group will take its case to court following a decision by the Maine Secretary of State’s Office that determined it could not validate some 5,000 petitions, and about 17,000 voter signatures, that had been notarized by Mendros.

In 2007, Mendros pleaded  guilty to three countsof not being in the presence of those to whom he administered oaths in a case that involved a ballot campaign for a casino in Washington County. He was fined $1,000 for one of the counts and $500 apiece for two others. One count was dismissed.

“This isn’t about Stavros,” Boyer said. “This is about the fact that over 17,000 valid voters signed their name on there, then those circulators swore, they signed swearing they witnessed those signatures to a notary — (Mendros) is a notary, his commission hasn’t expired yet. This is about voter intent.”

Boyer said he would swear under oath that he witnessed Mendros notarize petitions, and he questioned why all of the petitions notarized by Mendros were invalidated.

Dunlap said the signature on file for Mendros at his office did not match the signatures on the marijuana ballot petitions, which led his staff to invalidate all 5,000 petitions notarized by Mendros. Boyer contends it does match. He said the Secretary of State’s Office does not employ handwriting experts.

Dunlap said Friday that he made a mistake earlier in the week when he told reporters his office had reached out to Mendros in an attempt to get answers to questions about the petitions Mendros had signed off on. Dunlap’s staff did not do that, he said Friday.

“I’m sorry that we put out conflicting information; that was my fault,” Dunlap said. He said his staff had previously reached out to other notaries to get clarifying information, but in the case of Mendros they had not.

Dunlap said nothing in law requires his office to seek clarifying information and in his final analysis, the signature on file for Mendros for his official notary license in Maine did not match the signature on the petitions he was notarizing, and under state law they have to match to be valid.

Dunlap said the misstatement he made about reaching out to Mendros had no bearing on the determination to invalidate the petitions.

“I got out in front of the protocols that were followed and I made some assumptions and I said some things that have caused confusion; that’s my fault, ” Dunlap said. “It’s all on me. I’m mad at myself for it and I should have asked if we followed up on it like we did on some of the others and I would have gotten it right. But it makes no difference as to how we rendered the decision.”

Dunlap said in previous instances with Mendros his staff had reached out to him in an attempt to verify his signature or the signatures of other notaries who were working on campaigns with Mendros.

While Dunlap did not name Mendros on Friday, Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn did. She said the petitions in question were public documents that were subject to the state’s public disclosure laws.

Dunlap said signatures from several other notaries could not be confirmed by his staff and those petitions were also invalidated. 

Having the signatures notarized and being able to ensure that was done with legitimacy was critical to the process, Dunlap said. 

“This is not a technicality,” he said. “This is the unwobbling pivot upon which the integrity of the whole thing turns.”

Boyer said Dunlap’s answer didn’t satisfy him because Dunlap’s office, by his own admission, has previously reached out to notaries and even contacted the campaign about a petition circulator who had collected as few as 10 signatures.

“It does make us scratch our heads about why they would reach out to us about a circulator who collected 10 signatures for us but not about a notary who notarized over 17,000 valid signatures,” Boyer said.

He said the next stop for the campaign was a meeting with its lawyers and then to Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta, where they would appeal Dunlap’s decision to a judge.

Calls to Mendros were not returned Friday.

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