Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and forensic handwriting examiner Tiffany Ford inspect signatures on ballot access petitions submitted by Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Max Linn on Thursday, March 29, 2018 in Augusta. Credit: Christopher Cousins

Lawyers and witnesses for two Republicans vying to unseat Angus King in the U.S. Senate traded accusations of sabotage and fraud Thursday during a quasi-judicial hearing that could result in one of them being thrown out of the race.

Eric Brakey, a state senator from Auburn, and Max Linn, a financial planner from Bar Harbor, are competing for the Republican nomination to run against King in the November election. Both had their ballot access petitions certified by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap earlier this month, but that’s when controversy erupted.

First, Brakey’s campaign alleged that the Linn campaign’s petitions included dozens of fraudulent signatures, including several from people who are dead.

Then a Linn supporter levied a counter-claim that a notary for some of Brakey’s signatures was a convicted felon. The latter charge was dropped prior to an hours-long hearing Thursday with Dunlap, which focused on Linn’s signatures.

Candidates for U.S. Senate must collect at least 2,000 verified signatures to qualify for the ballot. Joshua Tardy, an attorney for Brakey, argued that all of Linn’s signatures should be disqualified because of “fraudulent conduct that implicated the petition circulators and is systemic through the entirety of the Linn campaign team.”

A number of witnesses testified that they never signed Linn’s petitions, despite their names appearing on the documents. Mark Foley of Brewer, whose name appeared on Linn’s petitions, testified that neither he nor his son, who has been studying in the United Kingdom for the past 18 months and whose name also appeared on Linn’s petitions, signed.

“I have never even heard of Mr. Brakey or Mr. Linn until Tuesday,” said Foley under oath. “Any petition that had my name fraudulently applied to it makes me extremely angry.”

Matthew Foster, district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties, said he also did not sign Linn’s petition despite his name and address appearing on it.

In addition to those who testified in person, forensic handwriting expert Tiffany Ford, who was hired by Brakey’s campaign, testified that numerous signatures appeared to be scrawled “unnaturally,” which she said is an indication that they were forged. She also identified a number of other discrepancies, such as some signatures that bore a forensic resemblance to the people who circulated the petitions.

Linn’s attorney, Steven Juskewitch, attacked the evidence from multiple angles, attempting to explain away some of the faulty signatures to human error or possibly signers who were less than honest. He also suggested that the Brakey campaign might have been responsible.

“What if an opposing campaign wanted to cause difficulties for an opposing campaign and write in names of people they know to be deceased?” asked Juskewitch of David Boyer, who is Brakey’s political director and the person who filed the complaint against Linn. Boyer rejected the assertion.

“What you’re saying is the opposing campaign would have to track where the other campaign is going to be collecting signatures, look up the obituaries for that town and then pretend to be an 80-year-old dead person,” said Boyer.

In his closing argument, Tardy said the number of allegedly fraudulent signatures and signatures that were disqualified by municipal clerks prior to Thursday’s hearing because of issues such as not being enrolled Republicans, was “extraordinary.”

Juskewitch argued that throwing out Linn’s signatures and throwing Linn off the ballot would disenfranchise hundreds of voters who signed the petitions.

“In order for this challenge to successfully derail the Linn campaign, they’re asking you to take an extraordinary step,” Juskewitch said. “It’s just not there. … I don’t think they’ve met their burden of providing you with sufficient evidence.”

By law, Dunlap has until Thursday, April 5 at 5 p.m. to render a decision.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.