(Updated 1:48 p.m.) Connecticut Republicans are taking Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to court and seeking an injunction against her office in a fight over which party gets the top ballot line.
The lawsuit filed Thursday follows a letter Republicans sent Merrill’s office in July pointing out that it was their gubernatorial candidate in 2010 who received the most votes even though he didn’t win. Merrill rejected their arguments in this letter explaining that Democrat Dannel P. Malloy received the most votes for governor even though he received them on two separate party lines. Malloy received 540,970 votes on the Democratic line, and 26,308 on the Working Families Party line.
Republicans argue that Tom Foley received 567,278 votes on the Republican line, which was the most received on a single line and should have given them Row A in 2011. They admittedly failed to catch the mistake in 2011.
“Unfortunately, the Secretary’s unfounded and apparently partisan-driven position leaves us no choice but to seek redress in the courts,” Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola said. “We believe the Secretary of the State’s interpretation is wrong and it would be unfair to Connecticut voters to allow these elections to proceed unlawfully.”
Av Harris, a spokesman for Merrill, said the office will be able to respond more fully after it has a chance to review the lawsuit. However, “we’re very confident the law was correctly interpreted with regards to the ballot order,” he added.
The 2011 municipal election was the first election in decades where Democratic candidates appeared on the top of the ballot because ballot order is determined by gubernatorial vote totals.
In their letter Republicans cited Connecticut General Statutes 9-249a as the basis for their argument.
“The party whose candidate for governor polled the highest number of votes in the last preceding election,” is what determines the ballot order of the parties, according to Republican interpretation.
While Merrill didn’t dispute the correct citation of the statute she said when she investigated this issue back in 2011 she reached a different conclusion.
“You correctly identify the candidates for governor; however, you do not differentiate between the appearance of a candidate on the ballot by ‘party’ nomination and by nominating petition with a ‘party designation’,” Merrill wrote. “Taking this crucial difference into account results in the conclusion reached by my office in 2011: the Democratic Party is listed on the first row on the ballot followed by the Republican Party.”
The argument Republicans believe is “thin.”
“While going to court is never a first option, we strongly feel that this is our party’s only recourse,“ House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said.
But Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo disagrees.
Ballot order is a matter that has proven to be historically meaningless, she said. Democrats occupied Row B on the ballot in 2010 and won every statewide office, every federal race, and maintained majorities in both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly. In 2008, also from Row B, Democrats carried the state for President, swept the federal races, and maintained healthy majorities in both chambers.
“Vision, hard work, and guts matter more to Connecticut voters than which row a candidate’s name is listed on,” added DiNardo. “The election will be determined not by placement on the ballot, but by the strength of the candidates.”
But Republican’s aren’t leaving anything to chance. The lawsuit was filed Thursday.
“The 2012 election is of critical importance to both our state and our country and Republican candidates running for office ought not be placed at a disadvantage by an inaccurate reading of a statute by a Democrat official,” Cafero said. “It is my hope that the court sees, as we do, that the law calls for the Republican Party to be on the top line.”
Republicans are being represented by attorney’s Proloy Das and Richard Healey of Rome McGuigan.