BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge will decide whether Maine’s secretary of state must stop printing the Nov. 4 ballot so that the name of an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate may be added or whether Laurie Dobson of Kennebunkport will have to launch a write-in campaign.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said Friday at the end of a 90-minute hearing that he would issue a decision by Monday on Dobson’s motion for a temporary restraining order. He had not issued a decision as of 5 p.m. Friday.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap denied Dobson a place on the ballot when she failed to submit the required 4,000 valid signatures on nominating petitions by the June 2 deadline. She claims that the petitions she received after that deadline from municipal clerks should have been accepted and would have included enough valid signatures to place her name on the ballot.
Independent candidates had to submit petitions to clerks by May 27 so that the signatures could be validated as those of registered voters. Dobson got her petitions in to the clerks by that date. There was no deadline, however, mandating when clerks had to return the petitions to candidates in order that they could be given to the secretary of state by June 2.
Dobson’s attorney, Jon A. Languet of Topsham, argued Friday that his client’s and her supporters’ constitutional rights were violated when clerks did not get the petitions back to her in time for her to submit them to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner urged the judge to deny Dobson’s request. She argued that because the burden of meeting the deadline is on candidates, Dobson should have submitted her petitions earlier to municipal clerks to give them time to validate signatures and to return them to her by mail.
Gardiner also told Woodcock that ordering the secretary of state to stop printing ballots so Dobson’s name could be added would disrupt the election process and double the $350,000 cost of printing ballots. She argued that the harm to the public far outweighed any harm Dobson would suffer by not having her name on the ballot.
To issue a temporary restraining order, Woodcock must find that Dobson most likely would succeed at obtaining a permanent order. Federal judges rarely issue temporary restraining orders.
Dobson attended but did not speak at Friday’s hearing.
“I continue to fight for the right to be on the ballot,” she said in a news release. “I expect the court to provide justice and reverse the entrenched prejudice against independent nonparty candidates.”
During Friday’s hearing, Woodcock suggested that a solution to the problem might be a process that had candidates submit petitions earlier to municipal clerks but gave them a deadline by which they had to be returned to candidates.
After the hearing, Dunlap, who served in the Legislature before being elected secretary of state, disagreed with that idea.
“I was a House candidate and it was up to me to meet the deadlines,” he said. “It’s not the obligation of the clerks to get them in on time. It’s the obligation of the candidates because they are their petitions.”
Dobson is the second independent candidate for U.S. Senate not to have a place on the November ballot. Herbert Hoffman last month launched a write-in campaign after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that some of his petitions had been improperly validated by the secretary of state. The number of invalidated signatures put him under the 4,000 threshold required.