Republican U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn of Bar Harbor attends a hearing regarding alleged problems with some signatures on his ballot access petitions on Thursday, March 29, 2018 in Augusta. Credit: Christopher Cousins

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn renewed an unsubstantiated allegation that his primary opponent sabotaged his nominating signatures after his lawyer admitted at a Tuesday hearing that there was “hanky-panky” and possible fraud around them.

Linn and representatives for his primary opponent, state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, were in Augusta on Tuesday for a hearing before Secretary of State Matt Dunlap where the candidates agreed on a lot — including that 46 signatures on Linn’s nominating petition are bad and a criminal investigation should be launched.

But they disagree on whether Linn should be booted from the ballot. Dunlap, a Democrat, is expected to rule for a third time by Wednesday on whether Linn will make the June ballot to compete for the nomination to challenge independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Candidates for statewide primaries must qualify for the ballot by submitting 2,000 valid signatures of registered voters in their parties. Dunlap certified Linn for the ballot in March and ruled that he could stay on the ballot earlier this month after a challenge from Brakey.

That wasn’t without lots of problems. Dunlap invalidated 230 of Linn’s signatures for myriad reasons, including that some were purportedly from people who had died, leaving him with just 18 more valid signatures than required.

Brakey’s campaign challenged that ruling in court, and a judge ruled last week that Dunlap could review new evidence. By Tuesday, Brakey’s campaign said another 46 signatures should be invalidated — 42 of them because the people who signed them weren’t registered Republicans.

At the hearing, Linn lawyer Steven Juskewitch admitted “hanky-panky” around the campaign’s signature-gathering process. One gatherer, Susan MacKay of Ellsworth, testified that signatures on a petition were added after she gathered them and before it was sent to the state.

But Linn said afterward that around 20 people involved with his campaign could have changed the petition, so he didn’t know who did. After that, he repeated a past allegation that Brakey’s campaign may have sabotaged his campaign’s signatures.

“Everybody’s in a quandary, but the reality is, if you follow the money, he’s benefited hugely and I’ve been at a disadvantage,” he said. “So, I’ll let the voters speak for themselves on June 12th when I take on Eric Brakey.”

David Boyer, Brakey’s political director, responded by saying that Lin’s campaign is “circling the drain and becoming more unhinged with every spin.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, Josh Tardy, a lawyer for Brakey’s campaign, said that “fraud has occurred” and that it should be investigated by Attorney General Janet Mills. Tardy asked Dunlap to strike Linn from the ballot.

Juskewitch said that Linn agreed with Tardy on the criminal investigation and said the Brakey campaign performed “a public service” by flagging it.

But he said that Linn should remain on the ballot because of a section of state law saying with “no proof of fraud or a knowingly false statement by the circulator,” invalid signatures on pages of petitions can be thrown out individually, but other signatures are valid.

Dunlap is expected to issue another ruling by Wednesday, when Maine Superior Court Justice William Stokes is also expected to review the case again.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...