Supporters of "No CMP Corridor" attend a rally after submitting more than 75,000 signatures to election officials at the State Office Building, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

A November ballot challenge to Central Maine Power’s proposed $1 billion powerline project is all but assured, as the state’s highest court Thursday affirmed the state’s decision to validate the referendum.

Former CMP employee Delbert Reed — represented in part by lawyers for CMP’s political action committee Clean Energy Matters — appealed a Kennebec County Superior Court judge’s decision that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap had acted correctly when he reviewed the signature-gathering process of powerline opponents as they gathered the voter signatures needed to force the referendum.

Dunlap found in early April that while some notaries working for the campaign had conducted other campaign duties during the process, the timing of those actions did not violate a 2017 state law that prohibits notaries certifying signatures from performing other campaign duties.

He weighed specifically whether some notaries were in the process of engaging in non-notarial services for the referendum effort when they administered oaths to circulators.

Dunlap ultimately invalidated more than 16,000 signatures, leaving the campaign with 66,000 valid signatures — enough to clear the roughly 63,000-signature threshold needed to get the challenge on the November ballot.

Reed, along with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Energy Consumer Group, argued that Dunlap misinterpreted the intent the Legislature had for the law, saying any non-notarial actions performed while employed by the anti-corridor campaign would violate the law.

But a panel of five Supreme Court justices disagreed. In a 20-page ruling, they said the state law did not intend to suggest a person could toggle between providing notarial and other services, but it was written in a way that only addresses services performed while actively serving as a notary, not those provided before or after.

“The plain language of the statutes, standing alone, does not clearly establish their temporal reach,” the justices wrote.

CMP has been working aggressively to defeat the referendum since before it was finalized. It spent $5 million during the first quarter of 2020 and $2.3 million during the final months of 2019, mostly on ads, through its political committee.