File image of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn of Bar Harbor at a hearing regarding alleged problems with some signatures on his ballot access petitions. Credit: Christopher Cousins

AUGUSTA, Maine — In a reversal, Maine’s secretary of state said Republican U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn should be disqualified from the June primary ballot after a Tuesday hearing in which his campaign acknowledged “hanky-panky” related to his signature-gathering effort.

If it stands, the ruling by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap will leave state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn alone in the Republican primary for the nomination to take on independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats.

Dunlap’s decision was made after a Tuesday hearing in which Linn’s and Brakey’s campaigns agreed that dozens of nominating signatures submitted by Linn — including several purportedly from people who died or said they never signed a petition — were fraudulently obtained.

On Tuesday evening, Dunlap ruled that Linn, a retired financial planner from Bar Harbor, fell 10 signatures short of the threshold of 2,000 registered Republican voters required to qualify for a statewide primary. He invalidated 258 signatures of Linn’s signatures in all.

The ruling isn’t final because the case is still in Kennebec County Superior Court after Brakey’s challenge of an earlier Dunlap decision to allow Linn on the ballot. Justice William Stokes is expected to review the new decision at an Augusta hearing on Wednesday and rule on it later.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Linn’s lawyer, Steven Juskewitch, admitted that there was “hanky-panky” and fraud around the campaign’s signature-gathering process. Linn agreed with Josh Tardy, an attorney for Brakey’s campaign, that Attorney General Janet Mills should investigate that fraud.

One gatherer for Linn’s campaign, Susan MacKay of Ellsworth, said under oath that signatures on one petition were added after she gathered them and before it was sent to the state. But Linn said he didn’t know who was responsible, saying that more than 20 people associated with his campaign had access to it.

However, he doubled down on a past unsubstantiated allegation that Brakey’s campaign may have sabotaged his effort, saying “the reality is, if you follow the money, he’s benefited hugely and I’ve been at a disadvantage” in the controversy over his signatures.

Tardy argued on Tuesday that the issues should disqualify Linn from the ballot, while Juskewitch said that Brakey’s campaign hasn’t proven fraud on the part of signature gatherers. Dunlap’s new decision could be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court if Stokes approves it.

In a statement, Linn said his campaign “is clearly disappointed in the ruling of Secretary Dunlap.” Brakey said in a statement that he is “deeply honored to be the Republican nominee” and that he hopes Linn “will stay involved and continue advocating.”

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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...