Supporters of a citizens initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Maine have failed to qualify for the November ballot.
The secretary of state’s office has invalidated about 47,000 signatures, which means organizers have fallen short of the more than 61,000 signatures needed.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap says his office works hard to follow a rigorous process that involves confirming that petition circulators are registered voters, that voter signatures match those that are kept on file and that they are properly notarized.
“We’re not in the business of trying to disqualify signatures and I want to make sure people understand that,” Dunlap says.
But in the case of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Dunlap says there were many red flags.
“It became apparent to us that we could not get good answers to our questions about the relationship between the notary and the circulator and whether or not the signatures were properly witnessed and that the oath was properly applied and notarized,” he says. “So, that applied to a significant number of signatures, so we invalidated about 47,000 signatures out of that mix.”
Dunlap says his office will do some further investigation to try to determine if anything illegal took place. Meantime, he says supporters of legalization can continue to gather signatures and try to qualify for next year’s ballot.
“We are very disappointed by the secretary of state’s determination,” says David Boyer, the marijuana campaign’s manager, reading from a prepared statement. “Based on the document that they provided it appears that more than 17,000 valid signatures from registered Maine voters were excluded from the count because the signature of a single notary, whose notary commission has not expired, did not exactly match the signature the state has on file for that notary.”
Boyer says if those signatures had been authorized his group would have had more than enough to qualify for the ballot. He says the group is now exploring all of its options, including an appeal, which would be heard in Superior Court.
Portland Rep. Diane Russell, a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization, says she’s confident the group will fight what she calls “an administrative technicality.”
“I’ve always been a champion of the peoples’ right to vote, the peoples’ right to engage in their democracy, and I feel like there’s a very real possibility that 17,000 people in Maine who were registered to vote are going to have their votes disenfranchised by not just a technicality but a microtechnicality, and we’re gonna fight it,” Russell says.
The group has ten days to file an appeal.
A separate proposal to create a casino in southern Maine also failed to qualify for the ballot. In that case the secretary of state’s office says supporters delivered more than 91,000 signatures but only about 35,000 were valid.