A community center in Guilford erupted into shouting Tuesday night when the chair of the Connecticut Independent Party announced he was breaking a tie vote and nominating Rob Hotaling for governor, dashing Republican Bob Stefanowski’s chance for a cross-endorsement.
The ballot ended in a virtual tie. Stefanowski brought in 79 votes versus Hotaling’s 75 and candidate Ernestine Holloway’s four. Through ranked-choice voting, Holloway’s votes ended up in Hotaling’s column.
Independent Party Chair Mike Telesca, who had urged the crowd to support Hotaling, announced he would break the tie in the independent candidate’s favor.
Amid cheers and shouted allegations of voter fraud, Hotaling took to the podium and urged the crowd to respect the process.
“Listen, Bob will still be on the ballot in November, right? But now we have more voter choice and that’s what this is about,” Hotaling said.
Nearby a woman muttered about a stolen election, “just like the presidential election.”
Following the results, Stefanowski’s senior advisor Chris Russell told reporters the campaign was consulting with its lawyers and expected to file a legal challenge.
“This was a plan to keep Bob from winning the nomination come hell or high water and (Telesca) executed his plan tonight. We just don’t think it was legal,” Russell said.
Russell later said in a press release that he planned to challenge the process in court. He said Telesca has no authority to break a tie. If a candidate does not achieve 51% of the vote, a re-vote is to be held.
Stefanowski, who held a closed-door, pre-caucus event for independent party members at his home earlier in the day, arrived with his campaign team during the first ballot.
Their presence immediately stirred up drama. Holloway flagged Stefanowski down and objected to the behavior of a campaign staffer who had previously been asked to quit passing out campaign materials. As she spoke, another staffer interrupted to whisper in Stefanowski’s ear.
“Can y’all just stop being rude,” Holloway said.
Meanwhile, Stefanowski’s campaign manager, Pat Sasser, took exception to name tag stickers piled on tables staffed by party officials. He raised the issue to Telesca.
“There’s a gazillion name tags all over the place,” Sasser said. “They shouldn’t be here.”
Telesca grew frustrated.
“You know, you guys are a pain in the ass,” Telesca said, looking at Stefanowski who stood in a nearby doorway. Stefanowski smiled at Telesca and waved.
“We are consulting with counsel and expect to legally challenge the results of tonight’s Independent Party caucus vote due to flagrant violations of their own bylaws,” Stefanowski and his running mate, Laura Devlin, said in a statement.
Stefanowski’s campaign said Telesca voted two times, once in the initial vote and a second time to break the tie. As the presiding officer of the caucus governed by Roberts Rules of Order, it’s questionable as to whether he could vote once, let alone twice.
The campaign also complained that even though he filled out an application in late July, Stefanowski’s name was not on the pre-printed ballot.
Stefanowski had hoped to receive the minor party’s cross-endorsement in this year’s rematch with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who has already been cross-endorsed by the state’s Working Families Party. Stefanowski did receive the party’s endorsement in 2018, when around 25,000 voters cast votes for him on the Independent line.
However, Telesca, whose faction of the Independent Party had recently emerged victorious from a court battle over control of the party, signaled early this year the party’s leadership would seek to nominate Hotaling after cross-endorsing Republicans in prior election cycles.
He told the crowded community center as much before voting began Tuesday night.
“We want to make sure that we are heard. That’s the reason why we have a third party,” Telesca said. “We cross-endorse at times to save our line but we don’t cross-endorse when we have our own candidate.”