Which party deserves top spot on archaic Connecticut ballot?

Republicans say they should have the top spot. Most votes for Governor last time were on the GOP line. CtMirror story:  GOP says its candidates earned top spot on the next state ballot  <read>

The state legislature’s top Republicans charged Thursday that GOP candidates should have been placed at the top of the ballot during last fall’s municipal elections, and challenged Connecticut’s chief elections official to correct the matter before the state elections this November.

State law rewards the party with the best showing in the gubernatorial contest by placing its candidates first on the ballot for the next four years.

In the 2010 gubernatorial election, Democrat Dannel Malloy finished 6,404 votes ahead of Republican Tom Foley. But Foley earned all 560,874 of his votes on the GOP line. Malloy, who was endorsed by both the Democratic Party as well as the Working Families Party, collected 540,970 votes on the Democratic Party line, and 26,308 votes on the Working Families ticket.

So which party truly finished first in terms of ballot order rights? Republicans now assert it was theirs…

Merrill’s spokesman, Av Harris, said the secretary’s office expected to complete its review of the legal questions raised by the Republican legislators by Friday.

Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo and Jonathan Harris, the state party’s executive director, said Thursday that they believe Democrats are entitled to the top spot on the ballot.

“In my mind, the plain meaning of the statute … talks of the highest number of votes collectively” received by a party’s gubernatorial candidate, and not necessarily votes tied just to one line, Jonathan Harris said. “If you look at the plain language of this statute, it indicates the Democrats should be on line A.”

The GOP legislative leaders also wrote to Merrill that New York faced “the identical issue” in 1995 and determined that while Republican George Pataki had defeated Democrat Mario Cuomo in the 1994 gubernatorial contest, Cuomo received more votes on the Democratic line that Pataki had on the GOP line. Pataki also had been endorsed by New York’s Conservative Party and received enough votes on that line to gain the victory.

A consequence of a bit of ambiguous law, combined with unanticipated consequences of fusion voting, and an archaic party line ballot, designed to resemble the face of lever voting machines.

Here is the text of the Connecticut law, New York’s law might not be identical:

Sec. 9-249a. Order of parties on the ballot label. (a) The names of the parties shall be arranged on the machines in the following order:

(1) The party whose candidate for Governor polled the highest number of votes in the last-preceding election; …

Not being a lawyer, I agree with Jonathan Harris, the law seems to read that the 1st line should be the party of the “candidate that polled the most votes”. Rather than the party “with the most votes for governor”.

This is another reason to change to a non-partisan ballot, yet I am sure there can be equally sticky issues no matter how the ballot layout is supposed to be determined.  At least we have statewide primaries coming up, so ballots have yet to be printed.

Update #1

Upon reflection we note that Governor Malloy was also the candidate for the Working Families Party, so perhaps the Democratic Party and Working Family have equal claim to rows A and B on the ballot.

Update #2

Thanks to a reader, for looking up and sending along text from the New York law. It is different, clearly specifying “the party which polled for its candidate”:

In printing the names of candidates on the ballot, the candidate or candidates of the party which polled for its candidate for the office of governor at the last preceding election for such office the highest number of votes, shall be row or column A or one and the candidates of the other parties shall be placed on such ballot in descending order of such votes.

Update #3 Merrill Rules

Secretary of the State, Denise Merrill, has interpreted that the Democratic Party deserves row A, while the Working Families Party did not qualify as a party. Letter to Republican leader:   <read>

We note that the Secretary’s letter “interprets” the law. The Secretary’s web site says “*Disclaimer: We do not advise on laws*” but from the law quoted in the letter, she does have the power to “rule”.

Update #4 08/09/2012

Republican Party files suit for top spot, Courant story: State Republican Party Files Lawsuit To Gain Top Ballot Line In November Election <read>

We stick with our interpretation of the law, which says Secretary Merrill is correct. And that what would be right in the long run, would be a change in the law to a non-partisan ballot.

Update #4 08/14/2012 Now it is in court

CTNewsJunkie: Going To Court On Primary Day <read>

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