Early, ominous sign for Maine casino campaign
A controversial campaign to give a Las Vegas gambling impresario the sole right to build a York County casino is raising questions about the ...
Early, ominous sign for Maine casino campaign
A controversial campaign to give a Las Vegas gambling impresario the sole right to build a York County casino is raising questions about the certification process. Here are some answers.
A campaign to give Las Vegas gambling impresario Shawn Scott the sole right to build a York County casino has generated considerable scrutiny about its tactics during an aggressive signature collection drive to qualify for the November ballot.
Now that the Horseracing Jobs Fairness campaign has submitted its petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office, there are lots of questions about how municipalities and state election officials validate signatures and whether the unorthodox campaign will actually make the ballot. On Tuesday, Ben Sprague, a Bangor city councilor, tweeted what could be a prescient statistic from the city clerk, whose office completed the inspection of the casino signatures submitted there last week.
Sprague reported that of the 6,869 signatures gathered in Bangor, only 2,913 appeared to be from registered city voters, and the remainder may be invalid. Sprague forwarded some additional details from the clerk’s office. Of the signatures that were considered invalid, some were from people living in other municipalities and others were duplicates.
Last week, Kathy Montejo, the city clerk in Lewiston, told the Portland Press Herald that she noticed a larger-than-usual proportion of invalid signatures on the casino petition sheets, although she cautioned at the time that the staff in her office was still reviewing the signatures.
“A lot of the ones that are full sheets, some have as many as one-third to one-half (of signers) that are not registered voters in Lewiston,” Montejo said.
That Bangor even collected statistics is relatively unusual. Municipal clerks are only required to track the number of petition pages they receive, not actual signatures. Final certification of signatures rests with state election officials, who determine whether a campaign has qualified for the ballot.
In other words, the information that Sprague was able to obtain isn’t readily available or tracked in many municipalities. They include Portland and Lewiston, which both confirmed Tuesday that they only tallied the number of petition pages, not signatures or invalidated signatures.
“We’re not the end-all-be-all, so we don’t want to duplicate the process that’s done at the state level,” Montejo said. “We can do it, but it’s time-consuming. If the mayor or another elected official asks us to do a count, we’d do it. But it’s very labor-intensive.”
It’s unclear how many signatures from the statewide campaign were submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office. Asked Monday for the total figure, the registered agent for Horseracing Jobs Fairness, Cheryl Timberlake, would only say “Enough.”
The signatures of at least 61,123 registered Maine voters are required to qualify for the ballot.
There are many steps in the municipal validation process. Once campaigns submit their petitions, clerks are charged with checking signatures against voter registration files and the state’s central voting registration database.
They’re checking for a few things. First, they ensure that a signature is actually a registered voter in that municipality. This is to guard against someone who may have signed multiple times and claimed multiple residences. If the signee isn’t a registered voter in the town, the clerk marks the signature with “NR” (not registered), a signal to state officials that it should be invalidated.
The clerks also review for printed names, which are also considered invalid and marked “sig” (no signature). Finally, they check to make sure someone else didn’t sign – or forge – a registered voter’s signature. If it doesn’t match the voter’s registration card, the clerks mark the signature with “ano” (another).
State election officials conduct a different type of review. They first check to make sure petition forms are valid and include the full printout of the proposed legislation. Then they look for irregularities that could invalidate an entire petition sheet of signatures. The latter includes a circulator’s oath that isn’t notarized until after it’s submitted to the town registrar, a petition form unsigned by a notary, or a notary and a circulator who are immediate family members. Dates or names that appear altered are invalidated.
Election officials also check for duplicate signatures, which are flagged once an official enters a name into a database designed to ensure each signature is counted once.
It’s not clear what to make of the signature data from Bangor. Montejo, the Lewiston clerk, was unable to give specifics, but she estimated last week that over half of the casino signatures submitted in Lewiston were invalid.
Also, the statistics in Bangor are similar to a referendum bid that fell short in Michigan in October. Petitioners there launched an expensive bid to overturn the state’s prevailing wage law, submitting over 388,000 signatures to state election officials. Only half proved valid. A review of the signatures showed that many came from unregistered voters, over 8 percent were duplicates, four people signed as many as 10 times and 18,767 people signed twice.
Stavros Mendros’ firm, Olympic Consulting of Lewiston, has been the primary beneficiary of the signature-gathering efforts for the casino campaign. But the campaign also has paid $15,000 to Silver Bullet Group Inc., which has addresses in Wyoming and Las Vegas, to assist the signature drive. Silver Bullet appears to be the organization responsible for shipping in the out-of-state petition circulators that Mainers heard so much about.
Silver Bullet also happened to be the firm that received $1 million for the failed effort in Michigan.