Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday afternoon on what is arguably one of the busiest days of the year for her and her staff, and she’s not happy about it.
The Republican Party filed a lawsuit last week against Merrill’s office asking the court to overturn her decision to put the Democratic Party on the top ballot line, and a Superior Court Judge scheduled a preliminary hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Tuesday is the primary election where voters from the two major parties will pick which candidate they want to be on the ballot in November.
“I do feel it is a regrettable distraction to the real job we have to do, as well as a waste of valuable resources and taxpayer money, to go to court over an issue that has dubious, at best, value to the Republican party,” Merrill said Monday at a press conference in her Capitol office.
“The notion that placement on the ballot is causing harm will be difficult to determine,“ Merrill added. “Time and money will be spent by my office and the Office of the Attorney General defending this lawsuit.”
Merrill has a staff of about 10 people in the elections division, which includes three attorneys, and she needs each and every one of them focused on the primary.
She said in the last statewide election her office received 5,000 phone calls and responding to concerns of voters and registrars is just one of the things her office does on an election day.
While the court’s scheduling decision may be an inconvenience, “even more offensive to me was the implicit idea that our decision was somehow partisan,” Merrill said. “It is no secret that I am a Democrat, but that’s not how I make election administration decisions. We look at the law, and interpret the law as professional election administrators. That’s our job.”
Merrill declined to get into the nitty-gritty of the legal arguments, but said the Republican’s claims were “hastily drawn and one year late.”
The Republican complaint doesn’t impact the party primaries on Tuesday because each party receives its own ballot with just Democratic or just Republican candidates on it.
In 2011, Merrill‘s office was confronted with determining party ballot order for the municipal election. Ballot order of the party’s is determined by the number of votes for the gubernatorial candidate in the previous statewide election.
“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy received the most votes in the last state election, he is a Democrat, therefore his party is awarded the top ballot line in our elections for the next four years,” Merrill said.
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, who have held the top spot for decades, disagree.
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 Friday. “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.”
“Although we wish we did not have to resort to seeking a remedy in the court, we have faith in the judicial process and look forward to our opportunity to be heard tomorrow,” Labriola said Monday.