A Superior Court judge denied a complaint Wednesday by Bridgeport state Senate candidate Juliemar Ortiz, who had asked the court to place her on next month’s Democratic primary ballot over allegations the local registrar improperly disqualified her petition.
Ortiz, a former reporter and former Democratic press aide, sought ballot access 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.
In a lawsuit filed last month, Ortiz accused Bridgeport’s Democratic Registrar of Voters Patricia Howard of wrongfully rejecting some of the signatures collected by her campaign to earn a spot on the ballot. She asked Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Thomas Welch to order the secretary of the state to include her in the primary contest.
Welch declined to do so in an 18-page decision released Wednesday. Although Welch ordered the restoration of 11 disqualified signatures as valid, he did not restore several pages of signatures collected by campaign workers who the local election official argued were not qualified.
“[T]he court affirms the decisions of the Registrar of Voters as her decisions were in conformity with the law,” the judge wrote. “Accordingly, the plaintiff has failed to obtain the necessary valid petition signatures to qualify for a primary pursuant to [state law] and therefore, the requested relief is denied.”
At issue in the case were the political affiliations of two campaign staffers. State election law requires signature collectors to be registered members of the party involved in the primary election in which their candidate is seeking to compete.
Howard, the registrar, rejected signatures from one staffer on forms where he failed to include the necessary documentation of his party affiliation and another who had submitted paperwork to become a registered Democrat on the same day he collected signatures. Welch concluded Howard had correctly applied the law.
The decision finds Ortiz narrowly missing the 1,585 signatures to qualify for the ballot. Her campaign reported submitting 1,905 of which Howard disqualified 351, leaving Ortiz just 31 signatures shy of the requirement.
In a statement, Ortiz praised the work of her campaign and volunteers.
“I am still proud that our campaign was able to expose some of the clear flaws of Connecticut’s signature collecting process,” Ortiz said. “The fact that there were any wrongfully rejected signatures, showed the public the discrepancies in the system and how non-party endorsed candidates can be cheated out of ballot access. Our fight for a more inclusive democracy is not over.”
Ortiz is not the only Democratic primary challenger to be handed a setback by a Superior Court judge in recent weeks. In late June, Muad Hrezi, an East Hartford Democrat seeking to challenge U.S. Rep. John Larson, was denied by a Hartford judge in a similar lawsuit. Hrezi has promised to appeal the decision.