• Can We Count On The Courts To Uphold The Law?

    May 5, 2024
    Town Hall, Greenwich, CT. Public Domain.

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    There is a lawsuit pending against the Greenwich Republican Registrar of Voters which was brought by other Republicans. A trial will be conducted on May 7, 2024. Certain Greenwich Republicans who were elected at caucus elections claim their lawful election was challenged using illegal petitions.  The suit claims the illegal petitions should have been rejected by the Registrar.

    The lawsuit demands that the registrar reject the illegal petitions under Connecticut General Statues Chapter 153, section 9-410c:

    No candidate for the nomination of a party for a municipal office or the position of town committee member shall circulate any petition for another candidate or another group of candidates contained in one primary petition for the nomination of such party for the same office or position, and any petition page circulated in violation of this provision shall be rejected by the registrar.”

    CGA General Statutes Chapter 153 Section 9-410c

    There are several reasons for this provision which are explained below. 

    First, Town Committee members are elected officials who represent the members of political parties within a Town.  There are two town committees in Greenwich, The Republican Town Committee (RTC) and the Democrat Town Committee (DTC).  The main job of the RTC and DTC is to choose the candidates for local offices and help them get elected.

    RTC and DTC members are chosen in caucus elections held every two years.  Any registered party member can attend and vote at the caucuses, and any party member can run for a seat in the Town Committee.

    Why this law is important:

    The specific reasons for the law quoted above which prohibits candidates from collecting votes for other candidates include:

    1. Prohibits a single candidate from challenging a caucus election of multiple candidates.
    2. Prevents “vote splitting” where a candidate loads the ballot to weaken the opposition.
    3. Prevents “alliances” in which strong candidates help others get elected in exchange for later support from the weaker candidates.
    4. Prevents “donations in kind” in violation of campaign finance laws.

    In this case, it appears that all these issues may have been violated with First Selectmen Fred Camillo and Selectwoman Lauren Rabin and others, putting their finger on the scale to challenge caucus election results they didn’t like. The Registrar voted with the faction challenging the caucus results at the RTC.

    The law is there to prevent just such action: to prevent a single candidate from forcing a primary, the law requires multiple candidates to petition to overturn a caucus election.  Each petitioning candidate must sign a statement that they want to run, and, importantly, they cannot collect petition signatures for each other.

    A similar reason for this requirement is to prevent “vote splitting.”  In vote splitting, a candidate helps others get on the ballot to take votes away from opponents.  For example, a member of one party may help a candidate of another party get on a ballot, thereby splitting the votes and weakening the opposition.  By preventing candidates from collecting signatures for other candidates the law reduces “vote splitting” by precluding one candidate from doing all the work.

    To help prevent vote splitting the law also has a waiting period after switching parties before voting in a caucus so that members of another party can’t try to affect the outcome.  In this case some Democrats tried to vote in the Republican caucus and when that didn’t work, they waited for the Primary and voted then. There were 250 voters switching parties before the Primary.

    This law also prevents weak candidates from relying on a stronger, well known candidate to help the weak candidates reach the required signature threshold.  This helps reduce deal-making in which weaker candidates promise to run and support the policies of a stronger candidate if the strong candidate helps them get elected.

    In general, candidates can’t provide help to other candidates unless they have created a joint Political Action Committee (PAC).  In this case, the candidates did create a PAC, but they only did so after they had submitted the petitions. This appears to be a possible violation of campaign finance law.

    In the March 5th Greenwich RTC primaries, all these issues appear to have been violated. For example, in District 2, a strong candidate, Jill Kelly collected most of the signatures for the primary.  The Kellys are well known, and Ms. Kelly was able to get signatures for the petition, even though several of the others on the petition are not well-known and do not appear to have previously participated in the RTC.

    The complainants in the lawsuit allege that as a result of Jill Kelly’s collecting signatures and of the Registrar ignoring the law which prohibits this, a primary took place which cost the Town thousands of dollars.  When candidates who were elected at the caucuses complained before the primary, the Registrar told them that the matter was out of his hands and they had to go to court, which they did.

    Furthermore, it appears that the petitions were not checked by the Registrar himself.  He was out of town and the petitions instead appear to have been checked by the assistant registrar who was perhaps unfamiliar with the law.

    This issue will be heard at trial on Tuesday, May 7th.  The court may choose to re-write the law from the bench, as has been the case in many such issues over the past few years, but the law itself is quite clear, and for good reason.  Stay tuned to find out whether the court upholds the law and tosses out the illegal petitions which challenged the caucus elections.

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    This law is new to me, and it seems, new to our registrar and our Selectmen!
    Well researched as always. Thank you, CT Centinal

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