In this Tuesday, May 28, 2019 photo a homemade sign is posted on a telephone pole in protest of Central Maine Power's controversial hydropower transmission corridor in Jackman, Maine. The power corridor would extend 53 miles from the Canadian border into Maine's north woods on land owned by CMP. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said on Wednesday his office did not disqualify enough signatures to stop the progress of a referendum set for the November 2020 ballot that aims to kill Central Maine Power’s proposed corridor project.

The decision was a blow to the utility’s bid to keep the question off the ballot, though it is not final and will go back to a Superior Court judge for approval after she kicked the question of whether the referendum qualified for the ballot back to the secretary of state’s office in March.

Dunlap’s office qualified the referendum for the ballot in March after Say No to NECEC, one of the groups that organized the referendum, initially submitted more than 6,000 extra signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. That proved enough to protect the effort for now.

Attorneys for the CMP-funded political committee Clean Energy Matters, who are representing Delbert Reed, a former CMP employee, charged in court last month that notaries hired by anti-corridor campaigners opponents engaged in activities in prohibited of state law, arguing that it could invalidate some of the signatures that validated by those notaries.

Dunlap said he obtained affidavits from some notaries involved in the campaign who admitted to doing additional work for the campaign. Those signatures were disqualified. But those efforts “didn’t color the integrity of the efforts” enough to void the campaign outright, Dunlap said. The number of invalidated signatures was not immediately available.

Clean Energy Matters hired a private investigator to observe people involved in signature gathering, including one woman hired to notarize petitions sorting and organizing petitions at a field office in Portland.

Reed sought to subpoena eight notaries he said were affiliated with Mainers for Local Power, a gas generator-funded political committee who hired signature gatherers for the petition drive. But the court did not allow for that in its decision to remand the issue back to Dunlap’s office.

Reed provided evidence of duplicates through notarized depositions from a state official and lawyer who alleged their signatures were forged. One was Nina Fisher, a deputy commissioner for the Maine Department of Transportation. Her home address was wrongly listed on the petition as her former work address at the state’s community college system.