June 21, 2018
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Ballot challenge put on judicial fast track

Bangor Daily News | BDN
Bangor Daily News | BDN
Alex Hammer (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT) CAPTION Alex Hammer, candidate for governor of Maine. Image made on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — A judge has agreed to an expedited review of a Bangor resident’s complaint against the Secretary of State’s Office as part of his ongoing fight to get his name on the November gubernatorial ballot.

Alex Hammer has alleged in court filings that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and his office wrongly rejected electronic copies of petition signatures he had gathered to qualify for the ballot as an independent or unenrolled candidate.

Hammer also accused Dunlap’s staff of acting “recklessly and harmfully” toward him by calling the State House police after one of his visits to the Augusta office.

Earlier this month, Judge M. Michaela Murphy in Penobscot County Superior Court bumped up the deadlines for the parties to file their briefings with the court in response to a written request from Hammer. Murphy said she would attempt to issue a decision in the case by Oct. 1, roughly a month before Mainers select the next governor.

“I’m happy with that,” Hammer said in a recent interview.

Hammer’s dispute with the Secretary of State’s office dates back to at least January when he requested additional copies of the petition forms candidates use to gather signatures to qualify for the ballot.

He eventually was given 150 copies — the same number available to all other candidates — and was told he could make photocopies of the original blank sheets. Hammer argued he could not afford to make photocopies but was not given more copies than other candidates.

As a result, Hammer said he was forced to have voters living in different towns sign the same petition sheet. He then submitted electronic or scanned copies of the sheets to town clerks for verification. He claims to have collected more than 5,900 signatures — more than the 4,000 needed to qualify.

But Hammer was denied access to the November ballot in May after Dunlap’s office directed town clerks not to count the petition forms submitted electronically, arguing statutes do not allow scanned copies. In the end, the Secretary of State’s Office verified 3,209 signatures.

“The registrars have to review the original petitions in order to certify that the people who signed are registered to vote,” Phyllis Gardiner, the assistant attorney general representing Dunlap’s office, said Monday.

But Hammer has argued that nothing in the law prohibits the submission of scanned copies to municipal clerks.

“Our goal obviously is to be on the ballot and, if necessary, to have the ballots reprinted,” Hammer said in a recent interview.

Asked if he believed he could win this November if he prevails in court, Hammer said that is up to the voters. But he said the issue before the court is whether Dunlap’s office was wrong to deny the petitions submitted electronically, regardless of his chances of success on Election Day.

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