The delegates elected to represent Maine Republicans at next month’s convention in Tampa, Fla., are fighting back against a challenge filed with the national party over the weekend. The challenge alleges 20 of Maine’s 24 delegates, as well as 20 alternate delegates, were improperly elected to their positions at the state party’s chaotic convention in May.

Over the weekend, delegates launched an online petition to collect signatures of support, and some said Monday that Maine Republicans Peter Cianchette and Jan Martens Staples filed their challenge on shaky grounds in an effort to deny Republicans a choice between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney at the party convention.

Meanwhile, Staples said that her interest in contesting Maine’s GOP convention delegation is in seeing that the party’s rules and parliamentary procedures are followed, not in suppressing support for Paul.

“I know the rules very, very well,” said Staples, who is part of Maine’s delegation to the convention as the state party’s Republican national committeewoman, a position she holds until late August. “All [Republican National Committee] members have an obligation to know these rules, to respect them and follow them.”

The 20 delegates and 20 alternates named in the challenge are supporters of Paul, the Texas congressman who is no longer actively campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination but hasn’t dropped out of the race. Staples and Cianchette are Romney supporters and Cianchette served as Romney’s Maine campaign chairman.

“I think anyone can figure out what they’re trying to do,” said Eric Brakey, a delegate and former director of Paul’s campaign in Maine. “All we want at the Republican National Convention is to have a discussion of ideas. It seems to me that limiting that discussion, ending that debate is more important [to Staples and Cianchette] than the party unity we’ve been building since the convention.”

Whether Maine’s delegation is seated could be critical to Paul supporters’ ability to formally nominate their candidate at the convention. If Paul can stand as an official nominee, which would require the support of at least five state delegations, he can address the gathering for 15 minutes.

“A convention isn’t just supposed to be a coronation,” said John Jones, a delegate from Falmouth who’s also running for a Maine House seat. “Delegates need to have options.”

Paul has support from a majority of Maine, Minnesota, Nevada and Utah delegates, and his campaign also is filing challenges to seat Paul delegates in Louisiana, Massachusetts and Oregon. In their challenges, the Paul campaign is alleging that the state Republican parties violated party rules in naming their delegations.

Brakey said Monday that the petition launched over the weekend already had garnered more than 500 signatures, largely from Republicans in Maine and some from out of state. The petition calls on Staples and Cianchette to withdraw their challenge and for the Republican National Committee to seat Maine’s delegation at the convention, which takes place Aug. 27-30. Brakey said he plans to submit the petition to the Republican National Committee, perhaps for consideration by the committee panel that will hear the challenge to the state’s delegation.

“They’re tearing apart this party here at home, and that’s not productive for the goals that we want to accomplish,” Brakey said. “I want to help the governor. I want to help maintain [Republican] majorities in the House and Senate.”

Staples and Cianchette’s challenge alleges that the Maine Republican convention’s credentialing process failed, leading to illegal votes; that there was no quorum when votes for at-large delegates and alternates were cast; that lax floor security led to illegal votes; and that convention officials repeatedly violated party and parliamentary procedures.

The convention became something of a chaotic affair when Paul supporters staged a takeover and elected one of their own as convention chairman. Ultimately, a slate of Paul supporters were elected convention delegates over an alternative slate, and some Republicans started predicting immediately that the Paul delegates’ status would be challenged.

“If they had been duly and properly elected, there would be no challenge,” Staples said.

Staples and Cianchette are contesting the status of all but one elected delegate and all but one alternate: Gov. Paul LePage and first lady Ann LePage, respectively. Maine sends three other automatic delegates to the convention: Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster, Republican National Committeeman Rick Bennett and Staples, the state’s Republican national committeewoman.

Staples and Cianchette’s decision not to challenge the governor and first lady’s right to be seated weakens their case, said Brakey.

“If it’s the process they have a problem with, you’d expect they’d challenge the whole slate,” he said.

But Staples said the LePages appeared on the two slates Republican convention-goers chose from, so they would have been elected in either case.

Staples, at the May convention, also lost her bid for re-election as Republican national committeewoman to Ashley Ryan, a 21-year-old Paul supporter from South Portland. Staples said her challenge of the Maine delegation is unrelated.

The challenge next goes to the Republican National Committee’s contest committee, which meets next month in Washington, D.C. That panel’s decision can be appealed to the convention’s credentials committee.

Webster, the party chairman, said he doesn’t expect an outcome in which Maine Republicans aren’t represented at the convention.

“I don’t know if all the rules were met, but the elections were held and it’s over, and the people who won will go to Tampa and vote,” he said.

Regardless of how the challenge plays out, many of the Paul delegates still plan to travel to Florida for the convention, Brakey and Jones said.