By DAVID SHARP AP
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A judge on Friday delivered a victory to supporters of a referendum aimed at legalizing marijuana by overturning the rejection of thousands of signatures by state election officials.
The same judge who upheld Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s decision to reject a casino referendum proposal because of invalid signatures on Thursday revived the bid to put the proposal to legalize marijuana on the November ballot.
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The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol disputed Dunlap’s rejection of 26,779 signatures because the signature of the notary didn’t match the signature on file.
On Friday, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy reversed the decision, ruling it was “unreasonable” for the state to require the notary’s signature to be identical to the one on file.
David Boyer from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said the secretary of state now must review the disputed petitions, but he viewed that as a formality. He said at least 17,000 of the disputed signatures were otherwise valid, adding up to enough to exceed the threshold of 61,123 signatures for the ballot.
“We’re operating as if we’re going to be on the ballot,” he said.
But Dunlap said it’s too early to say that the measure will be on the ballot. The implications of the judge’s ruling are unclear, and there could be an appeal, he said.
“We have to review the decision and figure out where we go from here,” Dunlap said.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in 99,229 signatures on Feb. 1, but only 51,543 of the signatures were deemed to be valid.
The secretary of state rejected more than 26,000 signatures because the signature of the notary didn’t match the signature on file. More than 17,000 of the signatures were linked to Stavros Mendros, a Lewiston-based political consultant and former state lawmaker, who notarized more than 5,000 petitions.
Murphy said it’s unreasonable to assume that a notary signs the document precisely the same way, saying the requirement was vague and subjective, and creates an undue burden.
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