WATERVILLE — After a drawn-out buildup, the disputing of ballots cast by Colby College students in Waterville’s plastic bag referendum has come to an anticlimactic close.

On Monday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the case after challengers Shaun Caron and Cathy Weeks failed to file a complaint before the March 8 deadline and notified the Clerk of Court that they no longer wished to pursue the issue before the state’s highest court.

“We therefore conclude that the ballots are no longer challenged and that the matter has been resolved,” the order of dismissal reads.

Plastic bags will be banned at Waterville retail stores of 10,000 square feet or more, effective on Earth Day, April 22, 2019.

On Election Day 2018, the measure designed to reduce waste and encourage recycling passed 3,052-2,906, but the decision was reversed by a seven-vote margin in a recount requested by Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro the following day. In that recount, 164 ballots were challenged — the majority of which (161) were cast by Colby students and faculty who had used Mayflower Hill mailing addresses rather than physical addresses on their voter registrations.

Weeks and Caron and others claimed that the registrations were invalid because they did not reflect where a student actually lived and could have inaccurately represented which wards and districts they were constituents of. The new dorm building at 150 Main St., which houses 200 students, is in a different ward and legislative district than the Mayflower Hill campus where the majority of students live.

PROCESS

Had the case been heard by the state’s Supreme Court, it could have laid groundwork for stricter rules for registration requirements and clarifications on whether or not to count ballots that were corrected after being challenged.

It also would have been just the second time that the results of a municipal election were decided by the state’s highest court. The first time involved a Winslow election.

William A. Lee, Waterville’s town attorney, could not be reached for comment about the impact of the court’s dismissal on Monday evening.

Per state law, when voter qualifications are questioned by a municipality’s registrar or are otherwise challenged, the registrar is required to host a hearing with each voter to determine whether or not they are actually qualified to vote, according to the order of dismissal. City Clerk Patti Dubois, who also functions as registrar, scheduled hearings with the 164 individuals whose votes were challenged, and 77 of those individuals showed up with additional proof of residence that led her to confirm the legitimacy of their ballots. The registrar’s decisions can be appealed to the municipality, who would host its own hearings and issue decisions. Beyond that, the municipal decision can then be appealed to a Superior Court and then at the state level.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court order notes that it “is not clear to us that the individuals who originally challenged the qualifications of the voters on election day continue to pursue their challenges to the Registrar’s intervening resolution of the qualifications of 77 of those voters.”

The order also states that no party filed a complaint invoking the “original jurisdiction of the Supreme Judicial Court.” A March 8 deadline was given for the filing of this complaint. If the challengers wanted to continue to challenge the 77 votes, the order notes they would have to both file this complaint and submit a brief explaining why “their failure to appeal from the Registrar’s decision does not preclude the challengers from maintaining their challenges, and addressing the substantive challenges to the voters’ qualifications.” The brief was given a deadline of noon on March 18.

PLASTIC BAGS DISPUTED FROM BEGINNING

Isgro had openly criticized (and later vetoed) the City Council’s decision to put the proposed ban on plastic bags to referendum in the first place. Isgro spearheaded the push for a recount on the grounds that 164 votes was enough to flip the election results. After critics accused him of attempting to suppress the votes of Colby students, Isgro maintained that his reaction was about “making sure our election laws are followed.”

“Friends, right now, political insiders and special interest groups — including people who do not live in Waterville — are lobbying Our City to retroactively change the voter rolls in order to conceal mysterious voter registrations that illegally list P.O. boxes for a physical address,” Isgro wrote in a Facebook post a week after the election. “This lobbying is an attempt to generate their desired outcome on the referendum to ban reusable plastic bags. Do you think this is moral or ethical?”

At the end of January, Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition, an environmental group that had pushed to get the plastic bag ban before voters, moved out of a small office in City Hall after the mayor called it a “special-interest group.” The coalition had been using the space free of charge.

Weeks and Isgro did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.