A Kennebec Superior Court ruling says the Taxpayers Bill of Rights referendum should not appear on the November ballot because all the needed signatures were not handed in on time.

Superior Court Justice Donald Marden ruled, “The Secretary of State had no authority to accept petitions presented subsequent to Oct. 21, 2005,” the statutory deadline for handing them into the state.

Without that box, the petitioners would not have had the needed 50,519 signatures to get the referendum on the statewide ballot. The secretary of state’s office validated the petitions on Feb. 21, with just 1,092 votes to spare over the minimum.

It was revealed at that time by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap that he accepted a box that contained petitions with 4,024 signatures on them three days after the deadline. The box was apparently left behind in an office.

Dunlap said because everything was circulated prior to Oct. 21 and everything was notarized prior to Oct. 21, he believed it was reasonable to accept the late petitions to allow petitioners to exercise their democratic rights.

The TABOR referendum calls for a law tying the amount of state taxes and fees the Legislature can spend to the rate of inflation and population growth. It also would require any tax increases to go out to the public for a vote. A similar spending limit would be imposed at the local level.

Kathleen McGee, a political activist from Bowdoinham, challenged the Secretary of State’s decision to accept the late signatures, saying it was beyond the discretion of his office.

“5 o’clock on the day of the deadline is 5 o’clock on the day of the deadline,” McGee said when she filed her challenge in court.

In his decision, the judge sided with McGee, who had argued that not meeting the deadline was unfair to others who have.

“While it is soundly argued that a Secretary of State’s responsibility is to protect the inherent right of the voters submitting the petition, this court would suggest it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to protect the process on behalf of all the citizens of the state.”

Dunlap’s office released a statement saying, “I am evaluating the Superior Court decision with my staff at the Elections Division and with the Attorney General to determine if further action is necessary.”


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