On Wednesday, the latest effort to legalize marijuana in Maine, known as An Act To Legalize Marijuana, failed due to the invalidation of 17,000 signatures based on the handwriting discrepancy of one notary.
Signatures can often be invalidated during the petitioning process, but this particular case is highly subjective. Maine law requires that signature collectors swear an oath to a notary that they have witnessed all of the signatures being made. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the signature of a notary differed enough from other signatures made previously by the same notary.
“The staff felt like the signatures on the petition forms they decided to invalidate were obvious enough, they were markedly different from the bulk of the notary’s other signatures, as well as the signature on file.”
said Kristen Schulz Muszynski, a spokeswoman for the Main Secretary of State’s Office.
Had the notary’s signature been deemed valid, the petition would have reached the required 61,123 needed to make marijuana legalization appear on the November ballot. Muszynski stated that their office “did not directly follow up with the notary,” although Secretary of State Matt Dunlap mentioned to Maine Public Radio that, “it became apparent to us that we could not get good answers to our questions about the relationship between the notary and the circulator.”
“This is subjective, this is relative, and if we’re going to narrow a First Amendment right it needs to be spelled out. Leaving it up to someone’s opinion is not enough.”
said David Boyer, Maine Political Director of the Marijuana Policy Project.
“We are exploring all legal means available to appeal this determination, and we sincerely hope that 17,000-plus Maine citizens will not be disenfranchised due to a handwriting technicality.”
As of Friday morning, Muszynski told U.S. News that Dunlop had misspoken, having assumed his office made the obvious step of contact the notary, which they had not. These conflicting accounts call into question the motives of the Office of the Secretary of State.
“We’re very concerned about the apparent lack of consistency in statements from the secretary of state,” said Boyer.
“When you are about to disenfranchise 17,000 registered voters based on a technicality, it is only logical to take a few simple steps to determine whether the notary signed the petitions or not.”
If the campaign plans to fight the decision, it has ten days from Wednesday to file a challenge with Maine Superior Court.