The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine filed a lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court on Thursday challenging the Secretary of State’s decision to disqualify the measure from the November ballot. According to the suit, which is now available online at http://bit.ly/1pzNhVO, state officials improperly invalidated thousands of signatures of registered Maine voters and unlawfully denied citizens their constitutional right to vote on the measure.
Campaign leader David Boyer and attorney Scott Anderson announced the details of the suit at a news conference in the office of Portland law firm Verrill Dana. Anderson is representing a group of Maine voters who signed the petition in support of the initiative, including Boyer, State Sen. Eric Brakey, and State Rep. Diane Russell, among others.
Last week, the Secretary of State’s Office announced that the proposed initiative did not qualify for the November ballot. 61,123 signatures of registered Maine voters were required, and state officials determined that initiative backers submitted 51,543 valid signatures. In a document explaining their determination, state officials said they invalidated more than 5,000 petitions, which included more than 26,000 total petition signatures, solely due to their finding that the signature of a notary did not “match” the signature the state has on file. It appears more than 17,000 signatures were otherwise valid signatures of registered Maine voters.
According to the initiative backers’ lawsuit, the Secretary of State’s decision is flawed because the disputed signatures do, in fact, match those on file and because the Secretary of State acted outside his authority in invalidating the petitions.
The Secretary of State did not provide any factual findings to explain how the notaries’ signatures on the petitions differed from those on file, and neither the state constitution nor the governing statute authorize the Secretary of State to disqualify otherwise valid petitions based on a subjective comparison of signatures performed by a non-expert employee. The suit also points out instances in which the Secretary of State invalidated petitions because the signature of the individual who notarized them did not match the signature on file, but validated other petitions in which the same individual signed as a circulator using the same signature.
On Wednesday, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine was notified that their ballot measure had failed to qualify for the ballot. The campaign turned in 99,229 signatures in February, but were told that nearly half of them were invalid. However, more than 17,000 valid signatures, more than enough to make the measure qualify for the ballot, were not counted. The reason: a handwriting technicality.
Supporters are not going to let the state take away the political voices of thousands of resident, and are appealing the decision. Now, the officials in charge of validating the signatures are mixing up their stories.
From U.S. News & World Report:
Maine officials have provided inconsistent accounts about whether they contacted a public notary before denying ballot access to a marijuana legalization initiative based solely on the belief the notary's handwriting was inconsistent on forms containing 17,000 otherwise valid signatures.
The various tellings of whether the notary was asked for an explanation come amid debate on whether they should have been contacted and whether the signature, which is required on petition forms, actually was inconsistent.
On Wednesday, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap seemed to imply his office contacted the notary before its decision, telling Maine Public Radio, “it became apparent to us that we could not get good answers to our questions about the relationship between the notary and the circulator.”
But on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, Kristen Schulze Muszynski, told U.S. News election staff “did not directly follow up with the notary,” as their signature on forms was "markedly different" from one the state had on file and on other documents they had notarized.
“We're very concerned about the apparent lack of consistency in statements from the secretary of state,” [Campaign Director David] Boyer says. “When you are about to disenfranchise 17,000 registered voters based on a technicality, it is only logical to take a few simple steps to determine whether the notary signed the petitions or not.”
We will keep you posted as this story develops.