A Hartford Superior Court judge declined Thursday to remove Independent Party gubernatorial candidate Rob Hotaling from the November ballot despite a complaint by Republican Bob Stefanowski who contested the third party’s nominating procedures.
Stefanowski, of Madison, had sought a cross endorsement from the Independent Party in an effort to appear on the ballot twice during his coming rematch with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont.
After the minor party nominated Hotaling, a Cheshire banking executive, following a tie vote with Stefanowski during an August caucus meeting, the Republican filed a lawsuit calling on the secretary of the state to remove the Independent Party from the gubernatorial ballot altogether.
In a decision released Thursday, Judge Cesar Noble opted to keep Hotaling and his running mate, Stewart “Chip” Beckett, on the ballot.
“Hotaling and Beckett are the duly elected nominees of the Independent Party of Connecticut for the offices of Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and accordingly, the plaintiff’s application for a temporary injunction is denied,” Noble wrote.
However, despite that outcome, Noble agreed with some of Stefanowski’s arguments in his 29-page decision released Thursday afternoon.
During a hearing last week, Stefanowski’s lawyers argued that Independent Party Chair Mike Telesca violated the party’s bylaws when he broke the tie for Hotaling. In the event that any candidate failed to secure at least 51% of the vote, the bylaws called for a new vote, they said, rather than a reallocation of votes under ranked choice voting policies as Telesca had argued.
Noble found that a violation had likely occurred.
“[New votes] should have continued until a ticket obtained 51% of the vote,” Noble wrote. “This was not done, and the court concludes that the use of the ranked-choice voting was plausibly in violation of the Bylaws.”
However, the judge also found that Connecticut law affords minor political parties more leeway to depart from their own rules than it afforded to the Democratic and Republican parties.
“Significantly, the statutory scheme applicable to major parties expressly mandates fidelity to the party rules for the nomination of candidates,” Noble wrote. “No similar mandate appears in the statutes governing minor parties. Had the legislature desired to impose a mandate that minor parties must follow their rules it clearly knew how to do so but did not.”
The judge stressed that his decision not to strip the Independent Party from the November ballot, was not meant to impart minor party chairman with “unlimited or unilateral” discretion to pick their party nominees.
In a statement issued through a spokesman, Hotaling praised the judge’s decision and said he looked forward to running a campaign based on new approaches to the challenges facing Connecticut.
“The decision is good not only for our campaign but also for our democratic process. I have said before that when the voters have more choices, it is good for democracy,” Hotaling said. “Bob may feel differently, but I would ask him: in what area of commerce or industry are fewer choices better?”
Responding to the judge’s decision, Stefanowski said he was disappointed and believed the ruling would allow minor party chairman to effectively ignore their own rules to achieve a desired result. He urged the legislature to consider changing the law.
“While disappointed in the decision, we respect it and are moving forward,” Stefanowski said. “This race is ultimately about Ned Lamont and how his policies have saddled Connecticut residents with higher taxes and rising crime. This race is a referendum on him and that verdict will be clear: we can’t afford four more years of Ned Lamont.”