03/02/2012 06:10 pm ET

Charles Summers, Maine Secretary Of State, Exploring Senate Run, Despite Role Overseeing Elections

On Friday, Maine Secretary of State Charles Summers became the first Republican to begin gathering signatures for the state's U.S. Senate race since Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) announced she would not be running for re-election. Two more Republicans -- State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and former Maine Senate president Rick Bennett -- also jumped in on Friday, while Scott D'Amboise declared his candidacy before Snowe's announcement.

Summers is in a unique position, however, since his office is also oversees elections in the state. Within the Secretary of State's office is the Bureau of Corporations, Elections & Commissions, which is responsible, according to the agency's website, "for elections, corporations, and a variety of central filing activities."

Candidates exploring a Senate run have until March 15 to submit at least 2,000 valid signatures to the Secretary of State's office.

Megan Sanborn, a spokesperson for the agency, said that there is nothing preventing Summers from exploring a run for office and overseeing the petition-gathering process.

When asked whether he and his staff will therefore be overseeing his signatures, Sanborn told The Huffington Post, "The division of election is not actually in his [Summers'] building. It's in a completely different office building. ... So they will review his signatures just like they will review everyone else's."

The Huffington Post asked whether the situation creates a conflict of interest. Sanborn pointed out that usually, candidates collect far more signatures than are required.

If Summers does decide to run, according to Sanborn, he is not obligated to recuse himself from overseeing the election process.

"What he will decide to do, I'm not sure yet," she said. "But he doesn't have to."

On the Democratic side, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and former Gov. John Baldacci are exploring runs.