Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis is no stranger to election cases. She’s ordered new elections as recently as last year, but this time attorneys are telling her she doesn’t have jurisdiction.
Briefs filed both by the state and an attorney for Rep. Phillip Young, D-Stratford, who won election to the 120th House District seat by 13 votes after a recount, have argued the court can’t decide this case. Instead, it’s up to the Connecticut House.
The Stratford Republican, Jim Feehan, who lost the race, filed the lawsuit in Bridgeport Superior Court last week. He claims there should be a new election because 76 voters were given ballots for the wrong race. The result of which is 76 voters were unable to have their votes counted.
Feehan alleges that the irregularities at the Bunning High School polling place have compromised the integrity of the election.
He wants the court to call for a new election.
Feehan “wishes to assure that all properly registered voters of the 120th assembly district who were denied the right to vote in the 120th assembly district election will have the opportunity to vote and have their vote counted,” his attorney, Proloy Das, wrote in court documents.
Feehan’s attorney argues that “a court should conclude that it has jurisdiction to reach the merits of a dispute whenever possible.”
Attorneys for Young and the state say that’s not the case.
Relying on the state constitution, attorneys for the state and Young argue that the House “shall be the final judge of the election returns and qualifications of its own members.”
“It is clear under our constitutional framework that the House of Representatives is the sole and final judge of House election disputes that involve the kind of unintentional election irregularities alleged here,” Assistant Attorney Michael Skold wrote in his brief.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has until Nov. 28 to certify election results, which brings a sense of urgency to the proceedings.
Attorney’s for Feehan argue he’s “not asking this Court to interfere with the House’s ability to judge election returns, and is not asking this Court to declare him a duly-elected member of the House. Indeed, at this juncture this Court could not usurp the House’s ability to judge election returns, because no returns have yet been certified to it.”
“Instead, Feehan is asking this Court to ensure that the returns ultimately sent to the House are based on a properly-administered election,” Proloy Das, Feehan’s attorney, argues in court documents. “Young’s contention that Feehan must contest the election in the House itself puts the cart before the horse.”
Das cites several election cases.
But, William Bloss, Young’s attorney, said the reason Feehan’s attorney is struggling to find a similar case in which a judge has ordered relief following an election for the General Assembly is because of the state constitution.
“The overwhelming majority of out-of-state cases cited by plaintiff hold nothing more than a state court order for a recount does not violate state or federal election clauses,” Bloss wrote. “That is a very different issue from rejecting returns upon a recount and ordering new elections.”
Furthermore, “an election challenge for every elected office in the state is provided for in Chapter 149 – except the General Assembly; that could not have been an oversight,” Bloss wrote.
Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said last week that essentially the Democrats are arguing that “not every vote matters.”
He said the Democratic Party goes to court to keep the polling locations open until 9 p.m. to make sure voters are not disenfranchised “unless it’s a district they might lose.”
The next hearing in the case is 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26.