Advocates in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Maine got a break today as a judge sided with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and ruled that the state did not use proper procedures to rule thousands of petitions as invalid. This means that the issue is likely to appear on the ballot in November.
The state had ruled that the signatures were invalid because the signature of the notary did not properly match the signature on record. However, an examination of some of the signatures showed that they were extremely close to the signature on file.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol disputed a March 2 determination by Dunlap that 26,779 public signatures were invalid because the signature of the notary who signed the petitions didn’t match the signature on file with his office. The campaign needed 61,123 signatures of registered voters but only provided 51,543 valid signatures, according to Dunlap. The campaign had turned in 99,229 signatures Feb. 1.
The campaign focused its appeal largely on the determination that about 17,000 of the 26,779 public signatures were invalid for the sole reason that the signatures of notary Stavros Mendros varied and didn’t match what is on file with the secretary of state.
“While the state of Maine has a compelling interest to ensure that all petitions submitted for consideration in a direct initiative are valid, requiring a notary’s signature to appear identically on every petition is unreasonable and abridges the constitutional right to initiative,” Murphy wrote in her 26-page ruling on the marijuana question. “The state has presented no evidence, and the court is aware of none, correlating the variability of a notary’s signature with incidences of fraud in administering the circulator’s oath.”
This means that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap now has to validate each individual signature on the previously-disqualified petitions, and it also means that there is now likely enough signatures on the petitions to qualify for the ballot in November. Previously, with the disqualified signatures, the pro-marijuana legalization side was about 10,000 signatures short of the threshold needed to make the ballot.
This is not only a win for people in favor of legal marijuana, but also for all ballot initiatives in the state. It's not right that the Secretary of State has the power to (seemingly) arbitrarily decide whether or not he thinks a notary's signature matches, and essentially disenfranchise thousands of people who want to vote on an issue.