PORTLAND, Maine — Libertarians in Maine scored a partial victory in federal court Friday and, as a result, have a second chance to complete an enrollment drive that was deemed insufficient last year by the Maine secretary of state’s office.

U.S. District Court John A. Woodcock Jr.’s ruling means a Brunswick-based nonprofit organization called the Libertarian Party of Maine Inc. has until July 12 to qualify as a party by securing 487 new valid enrollments, which when added to enrollments certified last year would put the organization over the statutory threshold of 5,000 enrollments.

In late 2015, the party submitted nearly 6,500 names, but only 4,513 of them could be verified as registered Maine voters. The organization sued the state in January, claiming that the state’s rules for establishing a political party are unconstitutional and that the appeals process in the matter was inadequate.

Woodcock rejected the Libertarians’ appeal in April but reconsidered after the Libertarians argued successfully the ruling was based on a misunderstanding by the court about what the Libertarians were seeking.

At issue is the creation of a fourth political party in Maine that has the potential to have a drastic impact on everything from the balance of enrolled voters in Maine to who holds majority power in the Legislature. If the Libertarians are able to enroll at least 5,000 Mainers, they still would have to send at least 10,000 registered voters to the polls in November to maintain party status.

Woodcock wrote in his 33-page decision that the Libertarians are to be given credit for their 4,513 valid enrollees, but those voters are not to be officially re-enrolled in the party unless Libertarians meet the new July 12 deadline.

Achieving party status this year would guarantee spots on the state’s general election ballot for a Libertarian presidential candidate. However, Woodcock did not order the state to place three candidates nominated at the Libertarian convention earlier this month — two for U.S. Congress and one for state Senate — on the November general election ballot.

“To do so would exempt the plaintiffs from the municipal caucus and primary election requirements,” Woodcock wrote.

Woodcock also found a likelihood of success for the Libertarians if they mount a constitutional challenge to Maine’s enrollment deadline for new parties, which is Dec. 1 of the year before a general election, and the five-day verification window for the secretary of state. The plaintiffs argued in writing and orally earlier this year that those deadlines are far too soon and that similar deadlines have been struck down in numerous other court cases.

The Libertarian National Convention began today.

“This is great news, as the party begins its national convention to day in Orlando,” John Branson, who represented the Libertarians in the suit, said.

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.