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Absentee Ballots Mailed; Harp Camp Still Seeks Changes

by Paul Bass | Aug 26, 2013 4:03 pm

(11) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Campaign 2013

The Harp mayoral campaign failed to stop the city from mailing out absentee ballots Monday without changes; now it’s turning its attention to the primary election-day ballot.

Jason Bartlett, campaign manager for Toni Harp, one of four Democrats running in the Sept. 10 Democratic mayoral primary, first publicly raised the issue last week when he saw the design of the absentee ballots about to be mailed out to voters who allegedly can’t make it to the polls to vote in the primary in person. (Read about that here.)

He objected to the decision by Deputy City Clerk Sally Brown to leave Row A blank. The row is usually reserved by candidates endorsed by the Democratic Party. The Democratic Town Committee endorsed Harp at a convention, but then failed to file paperwork in time, so Harp ended up having to petition her way onto the ballot just like her opponents. In order to ensure her name would appear above theirs on the ballot (rather than alphabetically), her campaign created a petition “slate” with city/town clerk candidate Michael Smart. Slates appear first on the ballot.

Bartlett also objected to a decision to note in blank Row A that no party-endorsed candidates appear on the ballot. He objected as well to Brown’s decision to start the list of aldermanic candidates on Row C and leave the column for aldermanic candidates blank on the Harp-Smart Row B.

After consulting with the secretary of the state’s office, Brown agreed to have ballots reprinted to move the placement of the notice about a lack of endorsed candidates. But the office backed up her interpretation of state law that led to the decision to leave Row A blank and start listing aldermanic candidates on Row C.

Fast forward to Monday morning. Brown’s office received 4,000 newly reprinted absentee ballots from the printer. She separated 600 for voters who had already requested them. “I took them to the post office myself” to mail them, she said.

Bartlett said later that the Harp campaign will not further contest the absentee ballots. But it still is seeking to have the ballot changed for those coming to polls on Sept. 10 to vote in person. He said he wants aldermanic names to start on Row B. (That would still mean some of the aldermanic candidates aligned with the Harp campaign would appear next to her name; but in other wards candidates opposed to the Harp camp’s candidates would appear on that line, because they appear in alphabetical order.)

Sally Brown said Monday that she does not plan to change that ballot. “I’ve never seen that [done] before. Whatever goes out on the machine is the same as what people” get sent for absentee ballots, she said.

Meanwhile, secretary of the state spokesman Av Harris said Brown has correctly interpreted state statutes. He pointed specifically to subsections a, d and f of Section 9-437 of the Connecticut General Statutes, which he said his office interprets as clearly meaning that no other candidates (such as petitioning aldermanic candidates) can appear on the same line as a citywide slate (like Harp and Smart).

“The law is complicated, but what it says is that a slate means citywide candidates. A slate cannot include district or aldermanic candidates,” Harris said.

Ultimately, Harris said, his office can advise Brown, but Brown’s office makes the final decision about how to interpret state law for municipal election ballots.

Campaign manager Bartlett said he intends to raise the issue with Theodore Bromley, a lawyer in the secretary of the state’s office.

Brown consulted Bromley before preparing the ballot in the first place. Bartlett consulted with him too. Bromley wrote a memo, then went on vacation. He’s scheduled to return to work Tuesday. Bartlett said that Bromley offered a different legal interpretation, one allowing for aldermanic candidates to begin to be listed on the Harp-Smart slate’s Row B. Bartlett cited this sentence in the memo: “The above rules used for at-large office petitions apply separately to challenge candidacies for offices from political subdivisions.  Begin on the second row (Row B) and continue on the succeeding horizontal rows, under the applicable political subdivision office title—the number of rows which will be used being dependent on the number of such challenge candidacies.  Allocate rows to subdivision ‘full slates’ by time of filing - but remember that a petition naming only one candidate never qualifies as a ‘full slate’ (see above).  Below the subdivision ‘full slates’ if any—or beginning on Row B if none—place all other subdivision petitioners in alphabetical order as indicated above.”

Click here to read Bromley’s full memo.

Bartlett said he intends to pursue the Row B aldermanic quest with Bromley when he returns to work Tuesday. Meanwhile, another Democratic mayoral candidate, Henry Fernandez, issued a release Monday requesting to be included in any discussions with officials about potential ballot changes.

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posted by: Atticus Shrugged on August 26, 2013  4:43pm

After reading the memo, it appears as though Ms. Brown has indeed done her own editorializing and is endorsing a particular candidate.  First, it is optional to delete any columns or rows not needed.  Rather than deleting a row, she chose to first state that there is no endorsed candidate.  When that failed, she left it blank but kept a row there.  There is little doubt in my mind that this was politically motivated.

However, since she has chosen to keep row A empty, “challenge candidates names must appear on the second row (Row B),” which would be the same row as Senator Harp and Mr. Smart.  This is an example of someone over stepping her boundary.  The rules are quite plain.  She didn’t comport to them but rather is picking and choosing the rules and interpretation thereof that she desires in an unveiled attempt to impact the election.

Indeed, this is becoming increasingly silly.  Thank you NHI for posting the memo.  I’m saddened by Ms. Brown’s behavior but as she once told me “this is just politics.”  Its astounding to think that she treats her job as just politics and not as an honorable profession.

posted by: Dee Rien on August 26, 2013  5:18pm

Atticus, did you read the entire memo, or did you stop when you read a passage that seemed to endorse your candidate’s position on what is correct? If you did the whole thing, how did you miss this part?:
“If there is no party-endorsed candidate(s) for an office for which a primary is being held, the words “No Party Endorsement” must be inserted within the numbered box containing the title of such office, below the office title; and the box or boxes reserved for the party-endorsed candidate(s) must be left blank.”
Ms. Brown did exactly that.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 26, 2013  6:20pm

Sally has ALWAYS been by the book! She did it right and contacted the right people to make sure of that!

I really feel this is all sour grapes because the DTC messed up and because of their mistake they lost the endorsement. Reality if the DTC did not mess up this would not of happened.

But because it did as my father would say…“SUCK IT UP!” This is the ballot. This by the book.

posted by: alexey on August 26, 2013  8:33pm

Writing that absentee ballots are mailed to people who “allegedly” cannot vote in person makes them sound like criminal suspects. Just because a registered voter knows he will not be in the city on September 10th does not make his vote dirty, questionable or unequal if cast by absentee ballot.  While I value reporting on abuses of the system, please do not assume all absentee ballots are tainted.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on August 26, 2013  10:22pm

@Aticus

Really? You are trying to blame Ms Brown for your party’s incompetence. This is what to expect if Harp wins. She cant get her own endorsement filed on time nor proof read her own campaign literature.
I hope Bartlett succeeds in delaying the primary like in Bridgeport. Elicker is gaining momentum and with a couple more weeks to campaign, will win the primary outright.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on August 27, 2013  7:05am

Ms. Brown was given a memo of July 13th this year.  The memo clearly states that if there is no party candidate, there should be a designation of the same in within the same box as the office for which the candidates are running.  On August 22, a full month after the memo was released, the NHI ran a story wherein the Harp campaign criticized the then current ballot for editorializing.  See http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/harp_camp_blasts_ballot_display/.  Look at Row A, it is a clear evidence that Ms. Brown either editorialized or didn’t understand an otherwise clear memo.

Ms. Brown then decided to keep Row A empty though the memo that she is following gives her discretion to delete it.  The memo next states that “all” challengers, which should be read challengers to the party candidate, are to begin on Row B.  So, since there is no party candidate, Ms. Brown places Ms. Harp and Mr. Smart on Row B.  She does not place the aldermanic candidates on this row, although she is supposed to.  That was a decision by her.  She interpreted Ms. Harp and Mr. Smart as somehow different or unique from the alderman.

As to any argument that they are on a slate, it is disingenuous.  Only city wide candidates can run on a slate.  Moreover, the memo states nothing about slate and/or city wide candidates being different from aldermanic candidates such that they would need to be on a different line.  Moreover, her ballot has the effect of making Mr. Carolina and Mr. Smart and the alderman appear as a slate.

I think Ms. Brown knew full well what she was doing.  If you think otherwise, that is your prerogative.  But please don’t ignore all of the facts just to fit your narrative.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 27, 2013  7:23am

Shrugg Off Notes:

Sally Brown is correct. The ultimate elections authority in the state, aside from the courts who are hardly experts, is the Secretary of State and that office agrees with Sally Brown. Toni Harp and Jason Bartlett’s endless spree of drama games is tiresome and trifling.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on August 27, 2013  11:04am

The SEC has not issued a final ruling.  The person who wrote the memo has been away.  It is possible that when he returns, he will agree with the Harp campaign.  If that happens, the Harp campaign will prevail and the ballots will be changed.  If he does not agree, the Harp campaign should drop the issue.  Until then, no decision is final.

However, that the memo’s author has not spoken appears to be lost on many.  I don’t believe that the Harp campaign needs to have the ballots align in their favor.  I do believe that Ms. Brown had a very loose interpretation of the rules and that he conduct in not following the original memo is questionable.

And to be certain, that the rules may permit something does not make it just.  There are many recent examples of “legal” behavior that people find unethical. 

I understand that it is easier for you to try and shut me up.  But on September 10th, someone will prevail.  If it’s your candidate, great!  Until then, I think election officials should comport themselves in a non-partisan manner.  Ms. Brown has clearly picked her candidate in this race and that is what I take issue with.

posted by: westville man on August 27, 2013  1:37pm

How’s this whole episode for irony?  Holding the convention for endorsements on the last possible day and then filing (mailing!) late, coupled with her reaching out to Smart for a “slate” after she rejected him as a running mate a couple of weeks earlier when he approached her about it! Karma gods working OT.

posted by: Dee Rien on August 27, 2013  2:42pm

Since you have such deep insight into Ms. Brown, Atticus, why don’t you tell us which candidate she has picked, based on her ballot decisions. Who does this ballot help?

I find it rich that the candidate who (after her party screwed up) created a “slate” with another candidate just to get her name at the top of the list of candidates, is now complaining about ballot positions. It’s BECAUSE of their fast one with the “slate” that they don’t have any aldermanic candidates on their line. 

I wonder if the reason they are complaining about all of this is because they’ve already printed up their “VOTE LINE A!” materials. I saw a sign for Mike Smart for Town Clerk today, and it says “LINE A.” Oopsie.

posted by: Burbel on August 27, 2013  10:22pm

The plot thickens.

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