Life doesn’t get any worse than this for a political candidate – polling places plastered with printed notices from the state’s chief elections officer warning people not to vote for you.

“We’ll actually have a posting and it should be in every voting booth,” Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said in an interview Thursday. “If you vote for Max Linn, candidate for U.S. Senate, you will not be counted in the tabulation. He is no longer a candidate.”

So ends one of the more bizarre chapters in recent Maine electoral history, not to mention a rare case of actual voter fraud.

It’s too late to remove Linn, a financial planner from Bar Harbor who hoped fervently to carry the torch for President Trump into next month’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, from the already-printed ballot.

But in a ruling Thursday, Superior Court Justice William Stokes affirmed Dunlap’s finding that Linn’s primary candidacy is, at long last, kaput.

Serious stuff, to be sure. But when your nominating petitions are pockmarked with signatures from dead people, it’s hard to claim – without sounding crazy or downright creepy – that the voters have spoken.

Let’s recap:

Back on March 15, Linn submitted 638 petitions containing 2,248 signatures to the secretary of state – apparently clearing the 2,000-signature threshold to put him on the June 12 primary ballot against fellow Republican Eric Brakey.

A week later, David Boyer, political director for Brakey’s campaign, challenged Linn’s petitions. Boyer alleged that multiple petitions contained apparent forgeries, duplicate signatures and, yes, the signatures of at least four people who currently reside in the hereafter.

At an initial hearing on Boyer’s challenge late last month, Dunlap tossed out 230 signatures. That left Linn with 2,018 signatures – still enough to put him over the top.

Boyer, citing new evidence of fraud and claiming that Dunlap erred by not tossing out several petitions in their entirety, appealed to the Superior Court.

After a hearing on April 20, the court tossed the case back to Dunlap, who in turn invalidated 47 more signatures and reinstated 19 others that he’d previously thrown out.

The net result: Linn’s final tally dropped by 28 to 1,990 signatures – 10 fewer than he needed to qualify for the ballot on which his name had already been printed.

Back to court they went Wednesday, where a remarkably patient Justice Stokes spent most of 90 mind-numbing minutes listening to Linn’s attorney, Steven Juskewitch of Ellsworth, readily agree that the Linn campaign was beset by fraud. Nonetheless, Juskewitch insisted, Secretary of State Dunlap had abused his discretion by disqualifying entire petitions deemed, for various reasons, simply too sketchy.

High courtroom drama this was not. Think Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s on First” baseball sketch, minus the howling audience.

Bottom line, Stokes ruled the next day that Dunlap had “carefully exercised his discretion” and, God save the Republic, sent Linn packing.

Left unanswered were the questions that still hang over this fiasco like a sky-high foul pop-up: Who did what, how and when did they do it, and why?

As Stokes noted in a footnote to his 16-page decision, “The Secretary of State endeavored to find out who retained custody of the candidate petition forms after they were turned in by circulators, but neither Mr. Linn nor campaign worker Matthew McDonald could provide any clarification as to what happened, other than to describe the process as ‘chaotic.’ ”

Outside the courtroom we go, where Linn, under constant coaching from attorney Juskewitch, agreed to field a few of my questions.

Such as: Is it worth it? With U.S. Sen. Angus King widely expected to win re-election regardless of who runs against him, are two hearings before the secretary of state and two before a judge, not to mention all the bad publicity, really worth fighting to stay in an election nobody expects you to win?

Linn pursed his lips while Juskewitch raised and lowered his outstretched palms in an apparent effort to calm his client.

“Don’t blow with both cannons,” Juskewitch softly told Linn. “Don’t give him both barrels.”

“Of course it’s worth it,” Linn finally replied with passion in his eyes. “Because we don’t have anybody representing the Trump agenda in Washington. Eric (Brakey) won’t and King doesn’t.”

“Perfect,” said Juskewitch, nodding his approval.

As for the source of all the “hanky-panky” – so labeled by Juskewitch in an earlier proceeding – our guess is as good as theirs. Notably absent from the hearing in Kennebec County Superior Court was the Linn campaign’s previous suggestion that opponent Brakey could have somehow snatched the petitions, inserted the bogus names and then put them back.

“He doesn’t know,” Juskewitch replied when I asked Linn where he thinks the train left the track.

(Here’s a hint: Paid circulators – some by the hour and others by the signature – performed the bulk of Linn’s petition work.)

“We had so many people wheeling in and out of our campaign that it might have been 40 people. I didn’t know them,” Linn said. “Plus, I was sick.”

As they departed the courthouse Thursday, Linn and Juskewitch were deep into speculation on how Linn might now run as a write-in candidate for the Republican nomination – the bonus being that voters could simply reproduce his name as it already appears on the ballot.

No can do, according to Dunlap. In order to be counted, write-in candidates must register with the secretary of state at least 60 days before the election – a deadline that came and went just over two weeks ago.

While ardent Trump supporters might fall in behind Linn and write him in anyway, Dunlap noted, “that’s an awful lot of blank votes.”

End of story?

Not quite. Linn could always appeal Stokes’ decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, although it’s hard to imagine on what grounds.

Also, Dunlap said, assuming Linn registers on time, he could always run as a write-in in November against the independent King, sole Democratic candidate Zak Ringelstein and Brakey.

Should Linn go that route, here’s hoping the secretary of state will be waiting – the state’s election laws in one hand, a list of Maine’s most recent obituaries in the other.

“Honest to God, I don’t go looking for trouble,” Dunlap said. “It finds me naturally.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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