Ahead of today’s 4 p.m. deadline to submit voter signatures, petitioning gubernatorial candidate Joe Visconti said he’s confident he will meet the signature threshold while Jonathan Pelto said he is encountering unexpected barriers in the process.
Pelto, a liberal blogger and former lawmaker, and Visconti, a conservative former West Hartford town councilman, are trying to petition onto the November gubernatorial ballot to challenge Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Both need to collect the signatures of 7,500 voters in order appear on the ballot with Malloy and a Republican candidate. Each town clerk has two weeks to verify the signatures on the petitions submitted by today’s deadline.
By the deadline, Visconti said his campaign will have submitted between 10,300 and 10,500 signatures to local town clerks. He said he was confident that would give him an adequate buffer to ensure he appears on the ballot if some percentage of the signatures are rejected.
“I could not conceive of more than 30 percent [being rejected],” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m not worried at all, not one minute or one bit and I have no doubt I’ll be on the ballot.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Pelto said he was still “hopeful” he would make that threshold, but has found the process of getting voter signatures vetted by municipal and state officials cumbersome.
“Democracy is a messy thing. This system that they’ve created is more complex than simply going out and getting 7,500 names,” Pelto said, adding that the signature threshold itself was an appropriate policy. But he said the submission has been “complex, convoluted, and primitive. It hasn’t been updated in a long time.”
Pelto’s campaign has been sending waves of volunteers to submit petition forms to local town clerks for the past few weeks. Those forms are beginning to arrive at the Secretary of the State’s Office in Hartford. Pelto stopped by there Monday, and said he found local officials had disqualified about 10 percent of the submitted signatures.
In many cases, the signatures were appropriately rejected because the signer was not a registered voter. But Pelto said he was alarmed to see some signatures had been disqualified by local officials for questionable reasons.
For instance, signatures had been rejected because the person who signed did not include their birth date. State statute does not require the inclusion of a birth date. In another case, it appeared as if a woman’s signature was tossed out because she signed under her married name but was registered to vote under her maiden name, he said.
Pelto said he was also concerned because town clerks in two municipalities have called and insisted it was his campaign’s responsibility to turn the signatures in to the state.
“Have the other town clerks not sent them in to Hartford? We don’t know,” he said. “We have to call every town clerk and say ‘By the way, do you have any Pelto petitions hanging around there?’”
Pelto would like the responsibility of checking the work of local voting officials to fall on Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office rather than on him, the petitioning candidate.
Merrill’s spokesman, Av Harris, said the office was aware of Pelto’s concerns and could follow up individual discrepancies or problems he found.
“We heard what [Pelto] had to say and we told him what the law was. We can follow up on individual cases if he has a report of some individual towns where he encountered a problem,” Harris said.
However, he said the Secretary of the State’s Office is not equipped with enough staff to check up on the work of all the local election administrators.
“If we get a report of widespread problems, that doesn’t really help us. We don’t have hundreds of inspectors to send out to all these towns,” he said.
Pelto’s not the only one who believes the petition process could use some streamlining. Connecticut Town Clerk Association President Joyce Mascena, town clerk of Glastonbury, said the clerk’s association is open to working with Merrill’s office and the legislature to change it.
“It is a cumbersome process, I will agree with that,” she said. “It’s an antiquated system. I think was designed for a much different time in our history.”