- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Supporters of voter initiatives to legalize marijuana in Maine and allow a casino in southern Maine have failed to collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the state ballot.

Petition gatherers for the marijuana initiative delivered 51,543 valid signatures - about 9,500 signatures below the threshold, the Maine Secretary of State office reported Wednesday. The office found 47,686 invalid signatures.

The office said supporters of the casino delivered 91,294 total signatures, but only 35,518 were valid.

State officials on Wednesday also announced they had approved a third initiative that would boost funding for schools.

Wednesday was the deadline for the Secretary of State office to validate signatures. The failure of the marijuana initiative was the biggest surprise of the day. The campaign on Feb. 1 had delivered more than 99,000 signatures.

David Boyer, manager of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said documents provided by the Secretary of State office indicate that more than 17,000 signatures from a single notary were invalidated because the notary’s signature did match the signatures on file.

“We will look at all the options to challenge this,” he said. “We don’t want to 17,000 people to be disenfranchised because of a handwriting technicality.”

A supporter, Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said the group will appeal because people deserve the chance to vote on the issue.

“This is about voting rights at its fundamental core, not legalization,” she said.

The campaign now has 10 days to appeal.

Had the casino initiative been approved, it would have allowed one man, casino developer Shawn Scott, to build the casino. The campaign’s aggressive signature-gathering drive had generated scrutiny. The campaign, Horseracing Jobs Fairness, at one point was paying petition circulators between $7 and $10 per signature.

Supporters of the initiative to boost school funding had gathered 66,849 valid signatures, about 5,700 more than required. The measure would raise $157 million in new annual revenues by instituting a 3 percent “surcharge” on the incomes of Mainers with more than $200,000 in household income.

Rob Walker, executive director of the Maine Education Association, which organized the school funding initiative, said the group will now shift its focus on planning a campaign.

“Going forward, the hard work starts to get this passed by voters,” he said.

The school funding initiative will join three other initiatives already approved for the ballot - measures to increase the minimum wage, change the way Maine selects candidates for Congress and state office, and strengthen background checks on gun sales.

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