Maine’s secretary of state announced last week that marijuana reform advocates failed to collect enough valid signatures to qualify their legalization initiative for November’s ballot. But those advocatesfiled a lawsuit on Thursday alleging that state officials improperly disqualified thousands of valid signatures that, if they had been counted, would have placed the measure before voters.
As Marijuana.com was first to report last week, the secretary of state’s office appears to have invalidated more than 17,000 signatures because the signatures of a single notary on the petitions did not match the one on file. According to U.S. News & World Report, officials did not attempt to contact the notary in question before issuing the ruling.
The lawsuit, filed in Kennebec County Superior Court, alleges that officials unlawfully denied citizens their constitutional right to vote on legalization. The filing comes on behalf of a group of Maine voters who signed the petition to put the measure on the ballot, including two state lawmakers.
David Boyer of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol announced the action at a news conference.
“We are confident that this appeal will result in the initiative appearing on the November ballot,” he said in a press release. “Each of the petitions in question was properly signed by both the circulators and the notaries. There is simply no reason for the Secretary of State to reject more than 17,000 signatures from registered voters in the state. The Secretary of State’s Office did not follow procedures commonly used to ensure, in their words, the ‘integrity’ of the process. The law dictates that these 17,000-plus signatures be counted.”
Advocates needed 61,123 signatures from registered voters to qualify, but after reviewing the nearly 100,000 signatures advocates turned in, the secretary of state’s office ruled that no more than 51,543 were valid.
Curiously, some of the notaries in question also signed the petitions as circulators, using the same signatures, but those were not ruled as invalid for not matching the signatures on file.
“For example, one of the notaries, Elliot Chicoine, signed 35 petitions as a circulator and 189 petitions as a notary. His signature is the same on all 224 documents,” the lawsuit reads. “The Secretary of State invalidated all 189 petitions signed by Mr. Chicoine as notary. In contrast, every one of the 35 petitions signed by Mr. Chicoine as a circulator was validated.”
The next step is for the secretary of state’s office to file a response to the lawsuit. The court must issue a ruling by April 11.
If the suit succeeds and enough additional signatures are ruled valid, the measure will appear on November’s ballot. If not, advocates are likely to appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
A poll last spring found that 65 percent of likely Maine voters support legalizing marijuana.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett