An independent contender for U.S. Senate filed a civil rights suit Friday in U.S. District Court to ask a judge to order the state to waive its normal signature collection requirements and put her on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Tiffany Bond

Tiffany Bond, a Portland lawyer, said in the suit that it “breaks my heart to have to file this lawsuit” against Gov. Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, House Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson.

“We shouldn’t have to rely on nagging and lawsuits for our government officials to do the right thing,” Bond said.

Attorney General Aaron Frey had no comment on the suit Friday.

One of the defendants, Gideon, is among the three Democrats vying in a July 14 primary to represent their part in the fall election versus four-term U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican. There are two independents already in the race, Lisa Savage of Solon and Max Linn of Bar Harbor.

The essence of her claim is that she could not collect the required 4,000 signatures because the pandemic, and the steps ordered by the state to stem the spread of COVID-19, made it impossible to meet the statutory rules.

Daisy Sauvageau, a Bond supporter in Waterville, said in testimony included with the suit that she collected 123 signatures in early March but only one since.

At Bond’s direction, she said, she ceased trying in mid-March for safety reasons and only began to seek more in May through a contactless system “where I went to a voter’s home and watched them sign from a distance.”

It didn’t work out well.

“Voters were afraid and no one wanted to meet me,” Sauvageau said.

In South Portland, Marie Pineo said that since Mills’ stay-at-home order in March “there has been an impossible gate put up for those of us who still need to be collecting signatures.”

With public events canceled, there are few opportunities to find people willing to sign, she said.

Pineo said, though, that she tried during a Black Lives Matter rally in Augusta and came up well short of her hopes.

“People were crossing the street to get away when I tried to get their attention,” she said, because they are scared of the disease.

In five hours, Pineo said, she rounded up only five signatures.

Complicating measures, town offices across the state have often been closed in recent months due to the pandemic and securing notaries to witness the petition difficult.

Bond, who ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. House seat two years ago, said that Mills’ order allowing notaries to operate remotely specifically declined to include notarizing political petitions, a move she said made it even harder to find a safe way to comply with the law.

A table was set up in front a Portland market last month to solicit signatures to get independent U.S. Senate candidate Tiffany Bond on the general election ballot. It attracted few signers. Tiffany Bond photo

Mills’ orders limiting social interactions to quell the pandemic “catastrophically inhibited” candidates’ ability to gather signatures in the time frame allowed by law.

Bond said she sued Mills and Dunlap for failing to ease the restrictions. She added Gideon and Jackson, she said, because the Legislature could have taken action to change the law before it adjourned in March but did not do so.

The bottom line in Bond’s suit is her claim that state leaders did not respond with necessary changes given that the pandemic “severely stifled” any effort to collect signatures.

“It has been flatly unsafe to collect for the majority of the collection period,” Bond’s suit said.

Bond told the court that “ballot access hurdles should be to screen out only those participating in bad faith for elected access.”

“The thresholds in place by the state of Maine are burdensome but achievable absent an extended period of emergency,” she said, but given the pandemic and emergency orders they are “thoroughly unreasonable” this year.

“Access to the ballot is a right of all citizens that deserves protection from our leaders, not merely when convenient,” Bond said.

She told the court that Jackson, Gideon, Mills and Dunlap “have been willingly tasked with preserving and guarding our democracy; they failed.”

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