Bridgeport: Judge rules for primary challenge, delays primary two weeks

CTPost Article: Judge orders Mary-Jane Foster on Bridgeport mayoral primary ballot <read>

Some of the highlights from the article:

[Judge] Bellis found that the interplay of state and city statutes that Democratic Registrar of Voters Santa Ayala had relied on to deny Foster a ballot spot was confusing and ambiguous and that the Foster campaign had made every reasonable effort to follow the law…

“Given the facts of the present case it appears that the interests and the constitutional rights of the voters, candidates and political parties outweigh any interest the Legislature has in enacting laws which are meant to make the election process fair and orderly,” the judge wrote. “Denying candidates a place on the ballot for a primary after they have demonstrated that the required amount of electors were willing to sign a petition to endorse their candidacy does not further the expressed intent of the legislature and it risks violating the rights of political parties and candidates and disenfranchising voters in this case.”…

Bellis noted in her ruling that the confusion engendered by the state takeover had made the laws governing the nominating petition process even more confusing. And she said the record showed the Foster campaign had, on numerous occasions, sought clarity from Ayala’s office and from the state, only to be rebuffed or ignored.

The case pitted Foster’s campaign, represented by Alan Neigher, who urged the judge to ignore technicalities and listen to the will of the people. The registrar’s office was represented by Deputy City Attorney Arthur Laske III, who stuck by his interpretation of the law and the City Charter…

In a statement issued after the decision, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she was pleased with the judge’s decision. Merrill’s office had suggested to Ayala that her reading of the applicable statutes was correct.

“Democracy works best when voters have choices,” she said. “Those of us who administer elections at the local and state level must always remember that while each of us has statutory obligations, our most important goal is to make sure that voters can express themselves freely through the ballot. I am therefore pleased that Judge Bellis’ decision will provide Democratic voters in Bridgeport with a legitimate choice — even if it is two weeks later than other municipalities in Connecticut cast primary ballots.”

Opinion:

We agree that the Judge made the correct decision in this case. However we caution, this ruling should not be taken as a general precedent that candidates and election officials can make unlimited errors, without consequences. This is a case where the will of the petition signers is clear; the campaign complied with the law to the extent humanly possible; the campaign was not responsible for any failure to comply with the letter of the law; no harm to the public occurs from this decision and significant harm if the primary were denied. There will always a be need for common sense.

Yet to be decided, perhaps months or years in the future, the State Elections Enforcement Commission complaint against Democratic Registrar of Voters Santa Ayala.

See our earlier coverage <here> and <here>

Addendum: The court ruling

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