P.T. Barnum’s city continues three-ring election circus

Ringling Brothers’ city of Sarasota is famous for the 2006 congressional election show, but Bridgeport Connecticut, resting place of P.T. Barnum continues to be the home of the three-ring-circus. Ring 1 and 2 are allegations of money hi-jinks involving the Mayor. Ring 3 is the rejection of petitions for a slate of candidates, led by a candidate for mayor, ready to challenge the establishment in the primary.

They had more than enough signatures validated with many left over available to check; the problem is they had one too many candidates on the petition; yet the petitions were drawn up by the same Registrar of Voters who rejected them. Whose fault is this? Should the slate be allowed on the ballot? Is this a violation by the official or not?  From the Connecticut Post the story of three complaints to the State Elections Enforcement Commission <read>

A state watchdog commission has begun an investigation into a political action committee that gave thousands of dollars to Mayor Bill Finch and his chief of staff, as well as a separate complaint regarding the city Democratic registrar’s rejection of Democrat Mary-Jane Foster’s mayoral nomination petitions.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission on Wednesday voted to act on a trio of complaints filed by Foster, whose hopes of challenging Finch in a Sept. 13 primary appeared crushed Monday after Registrar Santa Ayala ruled Foster’s nominating petition was invalid.

Among the issues to be probed by the SEEC is the relationship among the “People for Excellence in Government” political action committee, Finch and William P. Beccaro, a legal consultant who was paid $91,000 last year by the city.

Note that the extra candidate was for the Board of Education, recently taken over by the state. Nobody is sure there needs to be an election for BOE, and it would be meaningless, unless a court overturns the state take over. (Same circus, different tent?)

The most interesting  details are in the SEEC complaint concerning the nominating petition. It is an easy read: <.pdf>

Unfortunately, the SEEC will not rule until well after the primary election. Perhaps the slate will seek redress in the courts.

Details of the investigations will be withheld until a hearing officer’s report is put on a future commission agenda. Probes usually take months, and it’s unlikely that Foster’s request to set aside Ayala’s ruling could be reviewed before the next regular commission meeting set for Sept. 21, eight days after the Democratic mayoral primary vote had been scheduled.

A subsequent article in the Post suggests the candidate for Mayor may try the write-in route. And raises questions concerning the responsibility of a Registrar of Voters. <read>

However long it took Bridgeport to count all the ballots in last year’s gubernatorial race, it may take longer — way l-o-n-g-e-r — to tally all the mayoral votes in this year’s election. That’s because of the possibility of a write-in.

Keep in mind that write-ins can prove victorious. Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura ran and won as a write-in candidate. And so did Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski against a tea party candidate backed by Sarah Palin. Imagine how much more time-consuming tabulating the turnout’s gonna be with all the voters scribbling in mayoral hopeful Mary-Jane Foster’s name on their ballots. Once those ballots go through the city’s high-tech voting scanners, they’ll likely have to be sorted (by the name of each write-in candidate) and counted by hand…

With Ayala it’s hard to know what you’re dealing with. After reading her comments about the latest uproar — that she knew the nominating petition she was handing the Foster forces was flawed — I’m convinced she’s plenty smart, politically adroit and diabolical. A real triple-threat. She knows election law. She can probably recite the Bridgeport City Charter by heart. Even if registrars of voters have no legal duty (operative words here: RIGHT NOW) to advise a candidate of a problem with their paperwork, don’t they have an ethical obligation? It’s telling that the president of the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut, Anthony Esposito, Hamden’s Republican registrar, says he probably would say something about the defect to the candidate “in the interest of fair play.”

A registrar of voters is more than an election administrator ensuring that voter lists are up to date and people are properly registered to cast ballots. They’re supposed to empower citizens to exercise a fundamental American right: political speech.

Stay tuned, especially if there is a write-in campaign.  We added our comments on the second article at the CT Post:

The latest research adds one more challenge. Many write-in votes, under the standard of voters intent, are not recognized by the scanners as write-ins. Recanvass (recount) laws do not take this into account. If a write-in candidate gets more than about 42% of the vote, then they may well win if they can convince the courts to authorize a recount. For the details see: <CTVotersCount post on the latest research>

Update: As someone has pointed out to me, there is a complaint and it is being heard Monday.

Update: Agency examining Ayala’s ruling has been tough on previous registrars <read>

Update: Day 1 of court hearings on slate petition <read>

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