Juliemar Ortiz, a Bridgeport Democrat seeking to petition onto the ballot in a contested primary race for state Senate, announced plans this week to sue the city’s registrar over allegations she improperly disqualified signatures collected by the campaign.
Ortiz, a former reporter and former press aide to Senate Democrats and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, is seeking to compete in an Aug. 9 primary race between incumbent Democrat Dennis Bradley and the party-endorsed candidate Herron Gaston. Bradley, who earned enough convention support to secure a spot on the primary ballot, is awaiting trial on federal wire fraud related to his 2018 campaign.
Ortiz did not receive adequate convention support to automatically appear on the ballot and instead worked to collect the necessary 1,585 signatures from registered Democrats in the district’s Bridgeport and Stratford communities. Her campaign reported submitting a total of 1,905 signatures but the city’s Democratic Registrar Patricia Howard disqualified 351, leaving Ortiz 31 signatures shy of the qualifying threshold.
The candidate’s planned lawsuit rests on her campaign’s assertion that more than 80 signatures were rejected without cause. In a Wednesday’s press release, the campaign said Howard had selectively enforced petitioning rules.
“It’s also worth noting that before the Bridgeport registrar released their official count, they called the Stratford registrar to inquire how many signatures our campaign had collected there,” Ortiz said. “This highly irregular act gives us strong reason to question whether they impartially did their job, or whether Patricia Howard used her position of power to fix the scales and subvert our democratic process, depriving voters of a fair and transparent election yet again.”
Reached by phone Thursday morning, Howard declined to respond or comment on the allegations made by the campaign.
Ortiz, who has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, would become the second Democrat suing for ballot access during this year’s primary campaign season.
Earlier this month, East Hartford Democrat Muad Hrezi filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the State’s Office, claiming delays at the office hindered his petition drive to appear on the ballot to challenge U.S. Rep. John Larson for the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District.
Hrezi, who also argued that the COVID-19 pandemic complicated his campaign’s signature collection drives, has asked the court to grant his campaign two additional days to make up a signature shortfall.
“It’s really unfortunate that it had to get to this point,” Hrezi said in a video posted to his Twitter account on Wednesday. “It’s ridiculous that for us to get on the ballot we had to go through so many hurdles but even though we had to go through these hurdles, we’re willing to fight for democracy because I want to make sure voters have a say.”
Hartford Superior Court Judge Cesar Noble has ordered a four-day hearing on the matter, which is scheduled to begin on July 19.