AUGUSTA — A judge Thursday upheld the Maine secretary of state’s decision invalidating dozens of petition signatures filed by U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn, leaving the Republican short of the minimum needed to participate in June’s primary.

Kennebec County Superior Court Justice William Stokes wrote in his ruling that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap “closely examined each petition and carefully exercised his discretion in determining where fraud existed and whether that fraud affected the remaining signatures on the petition.”

Stokes rejected the Linn campaign’s arguments that Dunlap went too far by invalidating some petition sheets in their entirety after the campaign of his would-be opponent, state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, submitted additional evidence of potential fraud during the signature-gathering process.

Instead, Stokes said Dunlap had determined “that the evidence of fraud was so significant that it undermined the validity of the (petition) circulator’s oath.”

“As Mr. Linn has argued, the fraud had to come from somewhere,” Stokes wrote. “As the court cannot speculate as to where the fraud occurred, and the only person who was known to handle the petitions was the circulator, it is not an abuse of discretion for the Secretary to determine that there was fraud on the part of the circulator.”

Linn, who is a financial planner from Bar Harbor, did not immediately return a request for comment on whether he would appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Brakey’s political director, David Boyer, said the campaign felt “vindicated” by Stokes’ decision.

“Senator Brakey’s campaign is honored to be the Republican nominee to (challenge) Angus King this November,” Boyer said. “The votes of Maine people are too important and too sacred to allow fraud in this process, and we are proud of the work we did to help root it out.”

Boyer filed a formal challenge of Linn’s qualifications for the ballot in late March, claiming the candidate’s petition sheets featured signatures from dead voters and from people who said they never signed a petition. In his first review, Dunlap invalidated several hundred signatures but validated 2,018 – just above the 2,000 needed for Senate candidates to qualify for the June 12 ballot. But after Stokes ordered a second review using new evidence from Brakey’s campaign, Dunlap determined that 258 of Linn’s original 2,248 signatures were invalid. As a result, Linn fell 10 signatures short of the 2,000 needed to qualify.

Dunlap has said it is too late to remove Linn’s name from the ballot but Republican voters will be given instructions that he is not an official candidate.

During Wednesday’s oral arguments before Stokes, Linn’s attorney, Steven Juskewitch, said “there is no question that there was fraud” during the signature-gathering process and urged the Attorney General’s Office to look into the matter. But Juskewitch said Dunlap exceeded his authority when he invalidated entire petition sheets submitted by circulators because of a few potentially fraudulent signatures. Juskewitch suggested that someone other than the circulators was likely to blame for the fraud – although he didn’t name names – while suggesting Dunlap should have allowed Linn to keep any valid signatures on those sheets.

Stokes said Dunlap re-validated signatures from one circulator based on testimony during last week’s review hearing but that the Linn campaign failed to provide evidence to rebut the suspicions of fraud involving other circulators.

The tenor of the Republican Senate primary campaign has turned increasingly negative in recent weeks, with Linn repeatedly calling Brakey “Cowardly Eric” and blasting his conservative credentials on social media. Brakey’s campaign, meanwhile, set up a website calling Linn a “liberal Obama supporter” because he supported President Obama in the past and pointing toward his failed political campaigns in Florida.

This week, the Brakey campaign softened its tone as the candidate and staffers said they called Linn a “spirited competitor” who raised important issues.

“We hope Max will stay involved in Maine politics,” Boyer said. “We need all of the help we can get to defeat Angus King this November.”

King is widely considered the favorite in the November election. He is a former two-term governor who has held high-profile positions on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, among others, during his first term in Washington, D.C.

In addition to Brakey, King will face a challenge in November from Democrat Zak Ringelstein and potentially another independent candidate.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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