Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and forensic handwriting examiner Tiffany Ford inspect signatures on ballot access petitions submitted by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn in Augusta, March 29, 2018. Credit: Christopher Cousins

A superior court justice has upheld Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s recommendation that Max Linn’s name be removed from the Republican primary ballot for the party’s nomination to run in November for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by independent Angus King.

Superior Court Justice William R. Stokes ruled Thursday that “it is undisputed that there is fraud in” some of Linn’s ballot access petitions and that Dunlap’s recommendation against Linn earlier this week “was not an abuse of discretion.”

“Voting is a fundamental right in our democracy and the public’s trust in the integrity of the election process is a critical concern to the court,” Stokes wrote in the 16-page decision.

Matt McDonald, a spokesman for Linn, said he was nearly certain that the campaign will appeal Stokes’ decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“While this judge is well-respected, we’re disappointed with his ruling and we’re meeting with legal counsel right now to explore the appeal process to the state supreme court,” said McDonald.

The Linn campaign has up to two weeks to file an appeal.

David Boyer, who is Brakey’s political director, said “we hope the superior court’s ruling settles this and we can move on.”

The decision comes after a drawn-out challenge process launched last month by Brakey’s campaign, which has alleged a pattern of fraud within the Linn campaign that resulted in dozens of faulty signatures on Linn’s ballot access petitions, which included several people who were dead or who say they didn’t sign the petitions.

Dunlap initially certified the petitions and upheld his decision in early April, despite hearings that resulted in hundreds of Linn’s signatures being disqualified. Boyer appealed Dunlap’s decision, which led to Stokes ruling last week that the issue should be revisited.

Dunlap held another hearing Tuesday that culminated with a net of another 28 of Linn’s signatures being disqualified, bringing his campaign 10 signatures below the legal ballot access threshold of 2,000. Dunlap recommended that Linn be disqualified from the election even though his name will still appear on the ballot. That recommendation was subject to the ruling by Stokes.

Linn’s campaign argued that Dunlap improperly disqualified entire petitions that were found to have fraudulent signatures as opposed to disqualifying just the fraudulent signatures, but Stokes disagreed and wrote that “it is undisputed that there is fraud in these other petitions” and “the fraud had to come from somewhere.”

With Linn disqualified from the ballot, it clears Brakey’s path to a general election contest involving King, Democrat Zak Ringelstein and any other independent who might qualify for the ballot by June 1.

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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.