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CT's Bureaucratic Battle Over Signatures Highlights the Third Party Struggle

During the next week or so, Connecticut's Secretary of State will determine whether the Jonathan Pelto/Ebony Murphy ticket will appear on the 2014 ballot for governor.

Over the last eight weeks, hundreds of volunteers spent countless hours collecting more than the 7,500 signatures necessary to ensure that voters have an option other than voting for Dannel "Dan" Malloy or Tom Foley in this year's gubernatorial election.  Supporters of third party candidate Joe Visconti were doing the same thing over the last couple of months.

The deadline for submitting petitions was August 6, 2014. As required by state law, Connecticut's 169 Town Clerks (often delegated to local Democratic and Republican registrars of voters) have two weeks to process those petitions and certify to the Secretary of the State how many "good signatures" each candidate has obtained. Good signatures meaning signatures from actual registered voters.

A candidate collecting at least 7,500 signatures from Connecticut voters qualifies to be on the November ballot.

In one of the most interesting moments of the campaign so far, Governor Malloy recent told the New Haven Register Editorial Board that he had "'serious doubts' that Pelto will clear the hurdle by collecting the necessary 7,500 signatures of registered voters."

Have Malloy's political operatives been to the Secretary of the State's office to "help" count the signatures?

Have Malloy's people reached out to Connecticut's 169 Town Clerks or local Democratic registrars of voters?

Is Malloy a clairvoyant?

Or is Governor Dannel Malloy admitting to the fact that Connecticut's petitioning process is rigged to make it virtually impossible for third party candidates to get on the ballot?

A recent visit to the Secretary of the State's Office to review some of the Pelto/Murphy petitions that have already been processed provided a unique opportunity to see how the system really works.

Readers who have seen a candidate petition know that the form includes a column for the voter to sign his or her name, a column for them to write their name, a column to list their birthdate and a column to list their address.

However, the law only requires that, "A signator shall print his name on said line following the signing of the signator's name."

According to Connecticut law and the instructions from the Secretary of the State's office, listing one's birthday is entirely optional and the address is only provided to help identify that the person signing is actually a voter in that community.

Connecticut state law goes on to state, "Such town clerk shall certify...which names were on the registry list last-completed or are names of persons admitted as electors since the completion of such list. In the checking of signatures on such nominating petition pages, the town clerk shall reject any name if such name is not the name of an elector as specified above...The town clerk shall not reject any name for which the street address on the petition is different from the street address on the registry list, if (1) such person is eligible to vote for the candidate or candidates named in the petition, and (2) the person's date of birth, as shown on the petition page, is the same as the date of birth on the person's registration record."

Under Connecticut's Constitution and Connecticut law, elected officials must make every attempt to recognize the intent of the voter.

But incredibly, a recent review of names rejected by town clerks reveal that a number of names on the Pelto/Murphy petition were illegally rejected because they did not write down their birthday, despite the fact that the birthday is completely optional.

In other cases, names were illegally rejected because while the addresses didn't match, the birthdays did and the signatures should have been counted.

Connecticut law further states, "The use of titles, initials or customary abbreviations of given names by the signer of a nominating petition shall not invalidate such signature if the identity of the signer can be readily established by reference to the signature on the petition and the name of a person as it appears on the last-completed registry list at the address indicated or of a person who has been admitted as an elector since the completion of such list."

However, once again, a review of some of the petitions certified by town clerks show that signatures were rejected even though it is obvious, thanks to the address and the birthdate, that the person who signed the petitions is, in fact, a voter.

Finally, an initial review of some of the petitions revealed that a number of town clerks (or registrars of voters) rejected signatures because the signer was on the town's "inactive" voter list.

State law does allow towns to maintain an active and inactive voter list, with the inactive voter list containing people who are still voters but who have not participated in recent elections or failed to return a postcard to the local registrar of voters.  But an "inactive" voter who shows up at the polls must be allowed to vote and an absentee ballot submitted by someone on the "inactive" voter list must be counted.

But despite the fact that signing a Pelto/Murphy petition is a legally authorized part of the voting process, some local town clerks and registrars illegally rejected any signatures from voters on the "inactive" voter list.

To these and other violations of state law by town clerks and registrars, the Secretary of the States attorney's only advice was for the Pelto/Murphy ticket to sue should these violations prevent it from qualifying for the November ballot.

The entire situation makes one wonder if we are living in the United States or Putin's Russia?

Even more to the point, it is a sad commentary about the health of our democracy that here in the Constitution State, state and local officials are stripping Connecticut voters of their constitutional and legal rights.

It is equally appalling that the Governor of Connecticut, who is sworn to uphold our State Constitution, so quickly dismisses the situation by saying that he "he has "serious doubts" that the Pelto/Murphy team will collect the 7,500 signatures of to get on the ballot."

Any governor, even when challenged, should stand up for the Constitutional rights of his or her citizens. Winning may be important, but Governor Malloy should look in the mirror and remember that there are some things even more important than winning.

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Cross post from Jon Pelto's Wait What?

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