A Hartford Superior Court judge ruled Friday against Muad Hrezi, an East Hartford Democrat seeking to challenge U.S. Rep. John Larson for the 1st Congressional District nomination, denying his petition to be placed on a primary ballot.
Hrezi, who did not receive adequate support at the state’s Democratic convention to automatically qualify for a primary race against Larson, collected thousands of signatures in an effort to petition his way onto the ballot. Hrezi found himself 580 signatures shy of the 3,833 required number after 1,683 were rejected.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, the candidate blamed the shortfall on delays at the Secretary of the State’s Office as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and asked the court to place him on the ballot for an Aug. 9 primary.
In a 10-page ruling Friday, Judge Cesar A. Noble declined to do so. While Hrezi argued that state officials delayed issuing him petition forms for two days, Noble concluded the campaign could have acquired the forms by picking them up in person rather than waiting for them to be emailed.
“Even if Hrezi’s testimony were to be accepted, which it is not, that he was told by [Elections Officer Heather] Augeri that she would email him the petition forms, they were nevertheless available for him to receive,” the judge wrote. “[State law] does not mandate delivery of the petition forms, only their availability.”
The judge also rejected Hrezi’s efforts to reverse the dismissal of 110 signatures from East Windsor and South Windsor, which were submitted just minutes after a June 7, 4 p.m. deadline. The court is still expected to hear the candidate’s arguments that the state’s ballot access laws are too restrictive during a hearing scheduled for July 19.
Hrezi promised to appeal Noble’s decision in a Friday statement, calling it a shocking ruling against voter choice.
“The case’s facts are clear and on our side,” Hrezi said. “I specifically asked and received confirmation from the Secretary’s office that the petition forms would be sent to me via email, and I even wrote and rewrote my email on my application per the office’s instruction. Yet, I didn’t receive the form until more than two days later. Had our campaign received the full forty-two days, we’re confident we would’ve surpassed the signature requirement.”
Through a spokesman, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill declined Monday to comment on the court’s ruling.
Larson’s re-election campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story. However, in court documents filed in support of the Secretary of the State’s Office, a lawyer for the campaign argued that Hrezi’s lawsuit would create confusion among voters and hurt the congressman’s campaign for a 13th term in office.
“All candidates, including Larson, may receive fewer votes solely due to confusion caused by an additional primary, unfairly prejudicing candidates,” Larson’s lawyer, James Wade, wrote. “Further, Mr. Larson, who qualified to the ballot by strictly complying with Connecticut’s ballot access requirements, has shifted his campaign’s focus to preparing for the general election. Mr. Larson and his campaign would be prejudiced if required to shift back to focusing on a campaign for the Democratic Party primary.”
In the general election, Larson is expected to face Larry Lazor, a doctor from West Hartford who was endorsed by state Republicans at their party convention in May.
Time is running short for Hrezi to secure a spot on the ballot ahead of an Aug. 9 primary. According to the Secretary of the State’s Office, primary notifications have already been mailed out to town officials, who are currently arranging for primary ballots where they are necessary.
On Monday, Hrezi said it was still possible for a court to push the date if he wins an appeal. He said expects the issue to eventually be heard by the state Supreme Court.
“Really what happens at the lower court is not going to matter because this is probably going to the Connecticut Supreme Court either way,” Hrezi said. “If we win, I strongly believe Larson will challenge. If we lose, we will challenge. It’s just going to keep going up and up. This is unfortunately not going to be resolved until early August.”
Following the publication of this story Larson released a statement through a spokesman saying the judge had definitively concluded the Secretary of the State’s office and local election officials had followed the law.
“Now, it is my intention to focus on this consequential general election, so we
address the vital challenges that confront us,” Larson said.