Gov candidate Hammer loses shot at ballot

Posted Sept. 28, 2010, at 9:03 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A judge has upheld the Maine Secretary of State Office’s decision to keep a Bangor man’s name off the November ballot because he failed to submit enough certified signatures to qualify as a gubernatorial candidate.

Alex Hammer had alleged that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and his staff were wrong to reject electronic copies of petition signatures that Hammer had collected as part of his bid to qualify for the ballot as an independent candidate.

Hammer claimed to have collected more than 5,900 signatures from registered voters, far more than the 4,000 needed to qualify in the governor’s race.

But Hammer ran into trouble when he tried to submit electronic or scanned copies of the petition forms to town clerks, who must verify all voter signatures. The Secretary of State’s Office directed municipal clerks to reject electronic copies, resulting in Hammer falling roughly 800 signatures short.

Hammer had contended that Maine statutes do not specifically prohibit electronic copies. But Judge M. Michaela Murphy with Penobscot County Superior Court sided with the state in a decision released Tuesday.

Murphy said in instances where electronic copies of official forms are permissible, the Legislature has always expressly made those exceptions clear. But the statutes contain no such exception for petition forms.

Additionally, the judge pointed out that the Maine Law Court previously had held that the secretary of state could not, by himself or herself, “usurp the proper function of the Legislature to set election policy.”

“The court here finds that the secretary correctly interpreted the language of [the statute] … and, alternatively, determines that the secretary’s interpretation of the petition certification provision to be reasonable,” Murphy wrote.

“Because the petitioner could submit enough certifications to tally only 3,209 registered voters, he fell short of accomplishing the 4,000 properly certified signatures necessary to ensure his place on the November 2010 ballot for the office of governor,” the judge wrote.

Hammer could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Dunlap said in an interview that he viewed the judge’s decision as “a vindication of how we apply the law” and that his office does so in a “nonpartisan and fair manner.”

Reprinting the ballot forms, as Hammer had requested, would have cost the state a minimum of $175,000, Dunlap said.

The secretary of state also pointed out that his office processed petition forms for hundreds of candidates this year for governor, the Legislature and local races.

“Mr. Hammer was the only one who has disputed how the process was conducted,” he said.

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