US Rep. John B. Larson
US Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, speaks to reporters at an event in November 2021. Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie.com

A Hartford Superior Court judge on Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of Connecticut’s ballot access laws, handing another defeat to Muad Hrezi, the young Democrat who was challenging U.S. Rep. John Larson for the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 1st Congressional District.

Judge Cesar A. Noble had previously declined to order Hrezi, 27, of East Hartford, placed on the ballot for next week’s primary election, dismissing the candidate’s allegations that COVID-19 and delays at the Secretary of the State’s office had impeded his ability to collect an adequate number of petition signatures.

Muad Hrezi turns in some signatures.
Muad Hrezi turns in some signatures. Credit: Contributed photo / Muad for Congress

In a 51-page decision released late Tuesday, Noble denied another complaint in which Hrezi argued the state’s ballot access laws were too restrictive, especially as the pandemic has complicated the process of signature collection.

Noble concluded that Hrezi had faced signature collection requirements that were “not impractical, and there were no additional restrictions regarding the signatures to make it more difficult to collect.” Instead, the judge concluded that the number of necessary signatures – 3,833 in Hrezi’s case – was tailored to require potential candidates to show a modicum of support.

“Connecticut is a densely populated state and the candidate is affiliated with a majority party,” Noble wrote. “Connecticut allows two other methods to qualify for the ballot, creating more access to the ballot.”

In addition to petitioning onto the ballot through signature collection, candidates in Connecticut can earn a spot on the ballot by demonstrating support at their party’s political convention, either by winning the endorsement of delegates or by winning support from more than 15% of delegates. 

In a statement released following the judge’s decision Tuesday night, Hrezi, who has previously discussed plans to take the case to the state Supreme Court, said he would weigh his options going forward. 

“Our democracy’s at a critical juncture. We should be fighting to expand ballot access and voter choice, not upholding laws that restrict it,” Hrezi said. “These laws hurt us all because they stifle competition and the debate of ideas. I’m committed to shining light on this significant threat to our democracy, as a candidate or otherwise. We’re evaluating our appellate options in light of the court’s decision.”

Meanwhile, Larson’s campaign released a statement through a spokesperson, calling Hrezi’s lawsuit an ill-founded challenge.

“This November will be one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime and now is the time for Democrats to join together and stand united,” the campaign spokesman said. “Congressman Larson’s focus remains on lowering the cost of living for struggling Americans, fighting for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, enhancing and expanding Social Security for our seniors, and, crucially, helping other Democrats get elected across the state and nation.”

Hrezi had argued that the judge should have ordered another primary. Although the in-person election will not be held until Tuesday, some voters have begun casting absentee ballots and it would take time for towns to print new ballots to include Hrezi, his lawyers said in court documents.

In addition to former Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Gov. Ned Lamont, who were both listed as defendants in Hrezi’s lawsuit, Larson intervened in the case and was deposed during court proceedings last month. In court filings, lawyers for Larson and his campaign argued that ordering a new 1st District primary would negatively impact both Larson and other candidates.

“A separate primary would create confusion for Mr. Larson’s campaign, as well as candidates’ campaigns for other offices, because it increases the risk that voters will be confused about when to vote for each office,” Larson’s attorneys wrote. “All candidates, including Larson, may receive fewer votes solely due to confusion caused by an additional primary, unfairly prejudicing Defendants.”

Democrats and Republicans in Connecticut will head to the polls next week to pick their nominees in a handful of statewide and local races. Republicans will choose a nominee to run for US Senate and Secretary of the State. Meanwhile, Democrats will pick nominees in the Ssecretary of the State and state Treasurer races. Neither Larson nor Connecticut’s four other incumbent House Democrats will face primary challengers next week.