FALMOUTH — The town of Falmouth has asked for flexibility from the state in the signature-gathering process required to file nomination papers and extending the deadline to file due to constraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Town officials and former town council candidate Valentine Sheldon say they are concerned about election procedures being followed. In particular, through several emails, Sheldon has been vocal about his concerns regarding the requirement to gather 25 signatures to run for office in Falmouth. He said candidates who otherwise would have pulled papers may have been dissuaded from collecting signatures since March 31, when Gov. Janet Mills ordered Maine residents to stay home except for essential travel.

“Anyone interested in running should be able to take out papers and return them on the last day of the deadline. The fact that anyone who might have or who wanted to run, but could not get the papers and signatures because, yes, they want to play by the rules and do not want to jeopardize their or the community’s health, should not be disqualified because of a State and National emergency,” Sheldon said in an email to the town.

Falmouth is seeking guidance from the state about how to deal with the inability to collect signatures due to social distancing requirements and a possible extended deadline. E-signatures are not allowed and no alternative has been suggested by state officials, Town Manager Nathan Poore said.

While the town is looking for guidelines from the state about proceeding with elections, Council Chairwoman Amy Kuhn said the April 13 deadline may have precluded any problems.

“On April 9, we asked people if they had faced a barrier because of COVID-19, and if so, to let us know. Had we gotten responses, we planned to forward those to the governor’s office so they can have a sense of what’s happening on the ground. We didn’t hear from any residents at all, so I’m not sure if it was a problem in our town or hypothetical,” Kuhn said.

But Sheldon said it’s all about having a fair and open process.

“Having run myself and getting signatures, it’s a person-to-person contact thing. There is no two ways about it, you have to be out there, talking and getting them to sign your papers. You’re encouraged to get more than 25 as some sign and aren’t registered voters, others move,” Sheldon said. “My biggest concern, not just for town elections, but how are we going to deal with having fair and open elections during a pandemic?

The town adhered to the mandated deadline for filing papers, which was 5 p.m. Monday, but as of the Monday night council meeting, the town is still waiting to hear back from the governor’s office about the issue, Town Council Chairwoman Amy Kuhn said.

“The state laws do not provide for any flexibility for the nomination process. We have requested, and I believe other communities have requested, through Maine Municipal Association, to petition the governor for some relief, flexibility or guidance regarding the nomination process,” Poore said.

Sheldon believes deadlines should be extended for taking out nomination papers because the only people who can now run are those who took out papers early, and the election process, he said in an email with the town, is not “first come, first serve.”

“If they let this go through as is, these elections should be considered null and void, and going forward, how will (the recently elected officials) have any real standing in decisions they make,”Sheldon said in an interview.

Vice Chairman Ted Asherman and Peter Lafond, a member of the Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee, have returned their papers and are running for the two town council vacancies. Caleb Hemphill did not pull papers to run again.

Only one candidate, newcomer Jennifer Libby returned papers for the school board, which has three vacancies. Chairwoman Danielle Tracy and incumbent Julia Lucas did not take out nomination papers. Incumbent Julie Fraser “decided not to return her papers,” according to Town Clerk Ellen Planer, who did not return a message asking the reason why by The Forecaster’s deadline.

The vacancies could be filled with write-in candidates, Planer said, but if not, the vacancies would either be filled by a special election or at the next regular election.

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