Imagine trying to set up 1,500 blind dates.

That’s essentially what Portland lawyer Tiffany Bond said she must do to finish the required paperwork to earn a spot on the general election ballot as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Tiffany Bond

It’s not easy in the best of times, she said, but try getting all those forms done in the middle of a pandemic with the state refusing to bend on even its most arcane rules.

Bond, 43, said she has to track down voters willing to sign her petitions, ensure each signature is witnessed, arrange for notaries to check each piece of paper in person, get municipalities to certify the names when many of their offices are closed and, finally, submit them all to the secretary of state by the end of June.

Through it all, there has to be a verifiable chain of custody for every single piece of paper.

“All of it is unsafe” in the era of COVID-19, Bond said, but she’s pressing forward with as much care as possible.

She said her backers are setting up one-on-one sessions in unlikely spots, like a porch or a park bench, to get another signature or two.

It probably looks like a drug deal going down, Bond said.

“The lengths that I have to go to get a signature are insane,” she said.

Bond, who ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. House seat in 2018, plans to go head-to-head with four-term Republican Susan Collins in a contest that will also include the winner of the July 14 Democratic as well as independents Lisa Savage of Solon and, it appears, Max Linn of Bar Harbor.

Before she can get on the ballot, though, she has to gather 4,000 notarized signatures from Maine voters, a tough task in any year but one that’s particularly fraught with complications during a pandemic.

“We should always protect democracy,” Bond said, “and we’re not doing that.”

Bond, who doesn’t take campaign contributions and urges supporters to give their money to charities and small businesses in Maine instead, collected about 2,500 of the necessary signatures before the new coronavirus struck the state in mid-March.

A table is set up in front a Portland market to solicit signatures to get independent U.S. Senate candidate Tiffany Bond on the general election ballot. Tiffany Bond photo

She said she had always planned to get the rest in the spring once the weather turned nicer.

But once the pandemic hit and Gov. Janet Mills told people to stay home unless they were out on essential business, Bond said she could no longer do anything to gather signatures safely or ethically.

Now that things are loosening up a bit, she’s taking a stab at hauling in the rest of the signatures she needs, but it’s nothing like the normal process of years past.

It’s still not possible to go door-to-door or do anything that would bring signers within 6 feet of witnesses, Bond said. Even sharing a pen is a no-no.

The bottom line is that while she could collect a hundred signatures in a day before COVID-19, Bond said she’s lucky to get three in a day now.

Bond said she’s repeatedly sought guidance from the state but heard nothing but “crickets” from authorities.

Even in the best of times, Bond said, “the rules for ballot access are bull.”

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap provided the only new help given to potential candidates this year when he gave contenders an extra month to collect signatures, pushing back the June 1 deadline at the same time he shifted a scheduled primary from June 9 to July 14.

Bond said she’s fortunate because she has 2,500 signatures in hand.

That leaves her “within striking distance” of the total she needs, she said, but it’s still “completely unreasonable” to need so many signers during a public health emergency.

Savage and Linn collected more than 4,000 signatures early in the year, reaching the necessary tally before Mills shut down much of the state to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Getting signatures is much harder now, Bond said.

Instead of handing over forms for people to sign, or take around to their friends and neighbors, Bond has to mail them to supporters.

She can’t even send them as electronic attachments that can be printed out, Bond said, because the state mandates the use of 11- by 17-inch  forms that few printers can handle.

Once somebody gets a form, they can sign it – and have voters they are in close contact with sign – but they also have to figure out how to get it notarized in-person.

Mills eased notary rules for most business-related needs as an emergency step to deal with the pandemic, but did not revise the requirements for election-related notarizations, a step that Bond said was surely aimed at least in part in keeping her off the ballot.

Bond said the state is “limiting access to democracy” by mandating that independents get twice as many signatures as party-sponsored candidates and refusing to give them a break during a dangerous time.

Some other states have lowered the number of signatures required this year.

Among those making changes were New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who sliced the mandatory number by 70% for state races this year, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which cut in half the signatures candidates had to round up.

Bonds said Maine should follow suit.

She said the state has a responsibility “to provide a safe, ethical and attainable path to ballot access.”

At the least, Bond said, it ought to cut the number of required signatures to 2,000, to match what Democrats and Republicans need, and offer a way for paperwork to be notarized and certified without putting people at risk.

“It’s ridiculous that we’re in this position,” Bond said. “I’m a real candidate. I’m not an eccentric kook.”

Two years ago, Bond gathered a couple thousand signatures from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District voters and secured a spot on the general election ballot for herself as an independent candidate for the U.S. Congress.

She wound up collecting 16,552 votes on Election Day, the first choice of 5.7% of those who headed to the polls.

As it turned out, those who voted for her and independent Will Hoar handed victory to Democrat Jared Golden of Lewiston when ranked-choice voting moved on to determine that the independent supporters preferred Golden over incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin by a wide margin.

Bond, who has a website, said that a political hopeful who makes a good faith effort, matches the numbers that party candidates need and tries to work within the rules ought to be able to make the ballot.

If she can’t pull it off, she said, it would be a clear indication that state leaders didn’t want her to make it.


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