Bridgeport Democrats will head to the polls again Tuesday to choose a state representative nominee in an unusual court-ordered re-do of the contested primary race between incumbent Rep. Jack Hennessy and City Councilman Marcus Brown.
In a ruling two weeks ago, Judge Barry Stevens ordered a new primary in the razor-tight contest to be held just three weeks before the general election. The judge declined to rule on the outcome of the original August primary, which began with a five-vote victory for Brown that was later overturned by an automatic recount, only to be overturned again by a second recount.
Rather than decide the outcome, which he said was complicated by absentee ballots from four voters whose applications were signed by someone else, Stevens ordered the new election, giving both campaigns just two weeks to organize last minute get-out-the-vote operations.
On Monday, Hennessy, who was first elected in 2005, called the new primary “unprecedented” and said his team was working hard to contact voters and inform them of the second primary.
“Less than two weeks. It’s been difficult to get the word out about this primary that’s never happened in the state of Connecticut before,” Hennessy said. “All the people involved in politics agree that this has never happened in the history of Connecticut. It’s unprecedented.”
Brown, who was endorsed by the city’s Democratic Town Committee, did not return requests for comment on this story. In recent days he has posted get-out-the-vote flyers and messaging on his social media accounts.
But given the unusual timing, it is likely the race will be decided by an even smaller number of voters than the 1,144 who cast ballots in the original August primary.
Trish Crouse, practitioner in residence in legal studies and political science at New Haven University, said the second primary was likely to result in fewer voters turning out at the polls.
“People just get sort of apathetic if they have to come out and vote again,” Crouse said. “They don’t want to have to do it again.”
Even if that’s the case, Crouse said she believed the judge made the right call in ordering another election rather than trying to decide the contested results.
“Courts should not interfere in elections and I think that this judge, by telling them they should have a second primary, in my opinion is doing the right thing,” Crouse said. “They were basically asking him to choose which candidate won and I don’t really think that’s the purview of the courts.”
Still, Crouse compared the unusual court order to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, which reversed a Florida Supreme Court order calling for a recount in the 2000 presidential election and awarded the state’s electoral votes to former President George W. Bush.
According to Secretary of the State Mark Kohler’s office, new ballots will be printed to include the name of whoever wins Tuesday’s contest on the Democratic line. However, regardless of Tuesday’s results, Hennessy’s name will appear on ballots in November as the candidate for the Working Families Party. Republican candidate Anthony Puccio has also secured a spot on the ballot.
On Monday, Hennessy said he believed the general election would be won by whoever wins the primary.
“The whole ball of wax is tomorrow’s primary,” Hennessy said. “In Bridgeport, the primary decides the outcome. General elections are more of a formality in Bridgeport because of the outstanding number of Democrats in the city.”
Earlier this month the State Elections Enforcement Commission voted that both candidates were eligible for a supplemental campaign finance grant for the extended primary season.