Independent U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn of Bar Harbor attends a hearing regarding alleged problems with nominating signatures in a past campaign in this 2018 file photo. Linn's spokesperson Matthew McDonald said Linn plans to withdraw from the race and endorse Susan Collins. Credit: Christopher Cousins | BDN

A conservative U.S. Senate candidate disqualified from a Maine election in 2018 over fraudulent signatures will have his November ballot status examined again after a Thursday complaint from a former Republican legislator and ally of Sen. Susan Collins.

The retired financial planner from Bar Harbor emerged in 2018 to run an eccentric Republican primary for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Angus King while aping the style of President Donald Trump. He teased his run against Collins after being barred from the ballot that year after signatures purportedly from dead people appeared on nominating petitions.

Linn joined this year’s race against Collins as an independent and he has been relatively quiet in 2020. He was certified for the ballot in June by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office after turning in more than the 4,000 signatures from registered Maine voters that are required to make the ballot.

The challenge, filed on Thursday by former state Sen. Mary Small, R-Bath, looks to throw out more than 700 signatures. It appears to be a longshot effort and it’s unclear if even that would be enough to disqualify Linn. Dunlap spokesperson Kristen Muszynski said his campaign turned in additional signatures that have not yet been counted after he made the ballot.

Collins, a moderate who notably refused to back President Donald Trump in 2016 and has said she will stay out of presidential politics in 2020, has had problems on her right before. Her 2018 vote for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh consolidated establishment Republican support and Democratic opposition. Trump and former Gov. Paul LePage back Collins.

It does not appear that Linn, a former gadfly candidate in Florida, is a particular electoral threat to Collins in a campaign targeted by national Democrats after her vote for Kavanaugh. But having a wealthy pro-Trump candidate who has grabbed attention in the past could be a headache for the senator in a race to be decided by ranked-choice voting.

Small alleges that some of the gatherers working for Linn were unlikely to have gotten many of the signatures they reported because they came over the course of one day from voters who live over long distances. For example, one got 94 signatures in a day from people who live from Saco to 240 miles away in Indian Township and 180 miles away in the Jackman area.

It is, however, common for campaigns to gather signatures in high-traffic service centers where many people from different cities and towns gather. Linn spokesperson Matt McDonald said many of the signatures flagged by Small were collected at large-scale events before and just after the coronavirus pandemic hit Maine in mid-March.

For example, some of the dates in the complaint correspond to those of gun shows in Waterville and Bangor at which McDonald said the Linn campaign was collecting signatures. McDonald called the complaint “feckless” and ignorant of how signatures are gathered in Maine.

“My campaign team and I are not surprised by this challenge as we know that the entrenched establishment fears the disruption of open and honest democracy,” Linn said in a statement.

The complaint must be aired in a hearing before July 16; following that, Dunlap’s office must make a ruling within five days on Linn’s status. Collins spokesperson Kevin Kelley did not respond to questions. Small is a moderate ally of Collins who has been quoted in national news stories about the race and has been critical of more conservative Republicans, including LePage.

House Speaker Sara Gideon is the favorite in a three-way Tuesday primary for the Democratic nomination against lobbyist Betsy Sweet and lawyer Bre Kidman. Former Green candidate Lisa Savage has also been certified for the ballot as an independent.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated a hearing deadline on Linn’s signatures. It is July 16, not July 15.

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...