Stephanie Thomas, Democratic secretary of the state candidate, at podium Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut Democrats sought to draw a clear line Tuesday between Stephanie Thomas, their candidate for secretary of the state, and Republican nominee Dominic Rapini, who they cast as an election denier and danger to the voting rights of residents.

Thomas, a state representative from Norwalk, headlined a chilly morning press conference that was relocated under the state Capitol’s southern portico due to persistent rain. The event was designed to promote awareness of both a ballot question on early voting and the leanings of Rapini, the former board chairman of a nonprofit called Fight Voter Fraud Inc. 

“Connecticut is one of only four states who still don’t have [early voting] this common sense reform,” Thomas said. “We have a candidate [in Rapini] who has spread misinformation here in Connecticut about our elections and has accused our secretary of the state of a mass cover up around our 2020 election and who is a Trump enthusiast, even after everything we’ve learned about Jan. 6.”

Last month Rapini, of Branford, expressed a number of concerns about amending the constitution to allow the state legislature to legalize early voting. They included the potential costs to municipalities and the diminished impact of late-breaking campaign news. Rapini also worried that the proposed constitutional change did not specify how large the window for early voting would be in the law eventually drafted by state policymakers. 

But it was not the logistics of early voting that concerned Thomas and fellow Democrats on Tuesday so much as their contention that Rapini had served to undermine confidence in Connecticut elections through his past statements and work on behalf of the voter fraud group. 

“This guy is a full-on election denier and his tweets after the election underscore without any question his position on it,” Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said. “That guy should get nowhere near the Office of Secretary of the State,” Lesser said later. “I think it’s really a shame that Republican primary voters picked him.”

Rapini made a number of tweets in the aftermath of the 2020 election as former President Donald Trump sought to overturn the election results through unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud. On Jan. 6, 2021, as a group of Trump supporters rushed the U.S. Capitol, Rapini tweeted a response to the secretary of the state’s account, accusing Democrats of engaging in a coup and using the hashtag “#StopTheSteal2021.” 

A screenshot of a Twitter exchange between Dominic Rapini and the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s account

“It’s not just about a policy debate on issues,” Sen. Mae Flexer, a Windham Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s election policy committee. “It’s about a basic rift between truth and fiction and it’s really, really stunning that this is the state of the Republican Party here in Connecticut.” 

In a phone interview Tuesday, Rapini rejected the claim that he was an “election denier.” 

“I’ve said Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States and I’ve said that on multiple occasions,” Rapini said. “What I’ve done, which I think is the responsibility of every voter, is ask questions about elections and since 2019, I’ve been working very hard to understand how Connecticut elections work and understand the problems that we have, which are considerable.”

Rapini said Thomas, who serves on the Government Administrations and Elections Committee, has had her “head in the sand” and refused to acknowledge any cases of voter fraud. 

“When it comes to the confidence and integrity of our elections, we have to have zero tolerance of any fraud just like the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services has zero tolerance for fraud,” Rapini said. “Everything I’ve done has been to raise awareness that we have problems here that have to be solved. Stephanie Thomas either minimizes or doesn’t acknowledge them.”

Rapini’s group, which he is no longer associated with, had almost every complaint it filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission tossed. The SEEC called the complaints, filed by Linda Szynkowicz, of Middletown, founder and president of the Wyoming-based Fight Voter Fraud, Inc. a “waste” of resources. 

“The Commission notes that, while significant commission resources were required to process and definitively disprove the allegations contained in these complaints, complainant could have avoided the waste of these resources if she had ascertained the requirements of the law and the meaning of the data she produced as evidence,” the SEEC ruled.

Thomas, meanwhile, worried that Connecticut residents may not be familiar with the question on early voting they will see on ballots in November. Voters rejected a similar amendment in 2014, in a setback which proponents attributed in part to confusing language. 

Gemeem Davis and Callie Heilmann, directors of civic engagement group Bridgeport Generation Now, said that over 8,000 Bridgeport voters left the 2014 question blank, suggesting confusion about its intent. 

Thomas confessed she also left the question blank in 2014 because she was unsure what it meant, in part because there was no mailing campaign to educate voters. An Internet search provided no clear explanation, she said. 

“I showed up at the polls, saw the question, it was oddly worded. I didn’t know exactly what was meant so I opted to leave it blank and I think many others did that as well,” Thomas said, adding that voters still seem largely unaware of the question. “I think the difference is there are many, many candidates, activists, organizations who are trying to get the word out.”