Republican Linda McMahon brought her Senate campaign into deep Democratic country Thursday—opening a downtown New Haven office and moving to haul city officials into state court over alleged ballot problems.
City Hall’s top lawyer swung back, accusing McMahon’s campaign of concocting a bogus legal complaint and gumming up the works in the final, storm-wracked days of preparing for next Tuesday’s election.
City officials Thursday afternoon scrambled to respond to a letter from a McMahon lawyer, and to respond to the campaign’s allegations before Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina in state court in Hartford at 11 a.m. Friday.
At day’s end, the city and the campaign agreed to a postponement of the hearing until 2 p.m. Friday. Meanwhile, the campaign’s lawyer is coming to New Haven to meet with city officials to see if they can settle the issue among themselves. [Update Friday 11:30 a.m.: The meeting led McMahon’s lawyer to conclude that there was no reason to pursue the case further. Read about that here.)
In its request for an emergency order, the campaign asked Robaina to order New Haven to:
• “certify that it has ordered enough ballots for each precinct for the coming election.”
• otherwise “institute security and counting measures in the event that unscannable, photocopied ballots are used.”
• “purge the voter file of individuals that are not eligible to vote in the city.”
The action caused a stir in the city that has come to provide Democrats the biggest vote pluralities in statewide elections. Democrat Chris Murphy is believed to need a big turnout in New Haven this year to defeat McMahon.
The latest legal action stems from a McMahon complaint that New Haven failed to respond to a certified letter sent to the city on Monday seeking clarifications on voting procedures. The letter demanded a response by close of business Tuesday.
That steamed City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden. Bolden called the McMahon campaign’s actions a “waste of time” that comes at the expense of preparing for a smooth election.
Bolden noted that the McMahon campaign letter—written by attorney Herbert J. Shepardson of the Hartford firm Cooney, Scully and Dowling—was sent at the height of Superstorm Sandy, when government was shut down and all officials (including Bolden) were working extra shifts trying to keep people safe. He noted that he didn’t even receive the letter until Wednesday. He further said that the issues raised were canards, that the city has printed more than the required number of ballots for the election.
“Do you send a letter on the day of Hurricane Sandy? That says it all,” remarked Bolden as he huddled with mayoral Chief of Staff Sean Matteson and city voting registrars Sharon Ferrucci and Rae Tramantano in Tramantano’s office Thursday afternoon.
“Municipalities are struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and you’ve got people who want to play games. It’s just to draw attention. Now I’ve got to take [Rae] Tramantano to Hartford when we’ve lost two days because of the storm, because of political games.”
McMahon spokesman Todd Abrajano denied that accusation. Rather, he said the campaign has identified a serious concern about the city’s ability to conduct the election properly.
The McMahon campaign wants to ensure that New Haven has enough ballots for everyone who wants to vote, attorney Shepardson claimed in his Monday letter to the city.
“[I]t is not only important that people be able to vote, but also that there be an accurate and fair counting process in place which is integral to an open democracy,” Shepardson wrote.
The campaign asked all major cities to provide full certification, as required by law, that they have enough ballots on hand for Election Day, Abrajano said. He said he didn’t have a list of which specific municipalities the compaign contacted, but said the list included Hartford, Bridgeport and Waterbury.
“New Haven was the only municipality that failed to” prove it’s ready for the election, Abrajano said. “Even Bridgeport has their act together this time.”
He was referring to problems faced in 2010 when Bridgeport ran out of ballots, and it took days to complete a controversial hand-count there that raised many eyebrows. Click here, here and here to read Thomas MacMillan’s coverage of that fiasco.
New Haven’s top Republican elections official, Registrar Tramantano (pictured), took offense at any comparison to vote-counting in New Haven and in Bridgeport.
“We have no history of never having enough ballots,” Tramantano said.
Shepardson’s letter to the city began by noting that the city’s “certification of ballot ordering” filed with the state “raised some concerns”:
• Number one: It lacked a required signature.
• It showed the city ordering only 150 ballots for the Third Ward polling place in the Hill, Career High School. Yet 804 people voted there in 2008, and the ward has over 1,400 registered voters.
• The info for one polling place, in the 11th Ward, “provides no historical or contemporaneous information upon which to judge whether enough ballots have been ordered.”
In an interview and in a response letter drafted Thursday afternoon, Bolden said the city has in fact ordered 1,500 ballots for the Career High spot. The 150 notation was a typo, he said.
And he said the city had a good reason for not making historical comparisons for the 11th Ward spot in question—because it’s a new spot.
The main point, he and Tramantano said, is that the city has ordered well more ballots than can possibly be used: 110 percent of the number of registered voters. It ordered 75,200 ballots. The city has 70,558 registered voters.
Click here to read the response letter Bolden sent Shepardson late Thursday.
The Urban Stronghold
Thursday’s actions occurred against the backdrop of vote-pulling math: Democrats can’t win statewide office without winning big in New Haven, which has the largest local party and an energized labor-led vote-pulling operation. From the start of this campaign, Democrat Murphy’s campaign has made a priority of trying to excite that base this year in order to approximate Dan Malloy’s 18,613-vote New Haven margin in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Republicans have basically stopped running for office for here—for mayor, for alderman, for state legislator.
And yet—the Linda McMahon’s campaign has just opened to a U.S. Senate campaign office in downtown New Haven—for Republican candidate Linda McMahon.
Job-seekers, all African-American, shuttled in and out of McMahon’s new city headquarters Thursday morning on State Street between Elm and Wall.
Word got out that jobs were to be had—for some, working the polls on election day Tuesday, for others, canvassing neighborhoods.
McMahon’s office-opening and similar efforts in Hartford and Bridgeport signal that rather than ceding the cities, she plans at least to work at keeping down Murphy’s margin of victory in his urban strongholds. She has also released an ad targeted at black voters suggesting they split their ticket between her and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
“We’ll have dozens and dozens of people out this weekend going door to door for Linda McMahon in New Haven,” campaign manager Corry Bliss said Thursday. “Linda McMahon is not a typical candidate.”
Murphy’s New Haven headquarters, which doubles as the state Democratic Party slate’s city HQ, is on Whalley Avenue near the corner of Sperry Street.
Casandra Lowery (pictured) was among those filling out paperwork Thursday morning to work for Linda McMahon on election day. She was asked what prompted her to sign up with McMahon.
“I’ll be real with you,” responded Lowery, who in past elections has worked for former Democratic Alderman Greg Morehead in the Dixwell neighborhood. “Because of the money.”
Another canvasser (at left in photo) about to start distributing McMahon flyers around town said she does support McMahon—“because I’m a woman!”
Office manager Luisa Guerra said the McMahon troops have been canvassing New Haven “for some time” before opening the office.