Waving an example of what he called the “skullduggery” of New Haven election officials, a Republican candidate for state senator Wednesday called on Connecticut’s secretary of the state to “seize control” of the city portion of an upcoming special election.
The candidate, Steven R. Mullins, made the call at a City Hall press conference and in a letter to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. Mullins is running against Democrat Gary Holder-Winfield in a Feb. 25 special election to fill the vacant 10th state senate district seat recently vacated by Mayor Toni Harp. The district covers half of New Haven and a slice of West Haven.
Mullins’ request concerned just the New Haven portion of the election, not the West Haven portion.
“Everything here has corruption written all over it,” Mullins declared at the press conference in the first-floor City Hall lobby. “I want her office to oversee the polls, who is hired, the counting of absentee ballots.”
“Examples of election corruption in recent years in New Haven are legendary,” the candidate wrote to Merrill.
Reached after the press conference on her way to catch a plane, Merrill responded that she cannot grant Mullins’ request.
“We have no authority to take over an election,” she said. “We have no authority to run elections or hire people.” On election day, if her office receives a complaint, she can send people to enter a polling place, Merrill said. She also stays in contact with local voting registrars and clerks on rules for running elections. Mullins should bring any requests for intervention in the election to court, she advised.
Mullins based his request to Merrill on a number of recent controversies involving New Haven elections officials:
• In an unrelated upcoming election for 22nd Ward Democratic co-chair, the office of Registrar of Voters Sharon Ferrucci approved a petition to put a candidate’s name on the ballot—even though the circulator never signed the petition as required by law. Read more about that in this previous Independent article. (The city clerk’s office caught the error, and the candidate’s name is not appearing on the ballot.) At Wednesday’s press conference, Mullins waved a copy of the initially improperly certified petition.
In a conversation in her office following the press conference, Ferrucci (pictured) said she made an honest mistake in failing to notice the blank line where the circulator’s name was written. She was in the process of reviewing dozens of pages from numerous petitions by candidates for ward chair races at the time. “I am responsible,” Ferrucci said. She noted that her staff caught numerous errors on petitions submitted for ward chair races, and as a result several candidates failed to make the ballot.
• “Illegal use of absentee ballot applications and of the ballots themselves”: The state is currently investigating allegations of widespread absentee ballot fraud in last fall’s campaign for city clerk by candidate Michael Smart. Smart won the election (and now oversees absentee ballots). Reporters from the Independent, WTNH and the New Haven Register independently verified some of those allegations. Click here and here for more on that.
• A worker for Mullins’ campaign spent three hours haggling with Smart’s office over a request to obtain 1,000 absentee ballots. Only after an Independent reporter arrived “and after the corporation counsel was compelled to intervene,” Mullins wrote to Merrill, “was the request granted.”
The clerk’s office was also at the center of two other controversies last month: one over a staff gag order that temporarily impeded the release of public documents (read about that here); and one over an approved filing for an aldermanic special election based on a two-person nominating “convention” that took place in a coffee shop (not even the coffee shop listed on the form). Read about that here.
Mullins included some other allegations in his letter for which he provided no specific evidence.
He wrote to Merrill of “dead people voting for live people” and “non-residents and even non-citizens voting.” Asked at the press conference for specifics, he said “numerous” unspecified people at Newhallville churches last weekend told him those stories. He said that if a state investigation ensues, investigators would be able to find out names of complainants. He did not have names or dates or locations for instances or alleged non-resident voting. (Watch his full response on those questions in the second portion of the video at the top of this story.)
He also charged that “some people are being offered a crisp $20 bill for displaying an ‘I Voted’ sticker.”
Mullins, who works as a real-estate property manager in West Haven, was asked Wednesday what benefit a person would gain by paying someone else $20 to display an “I Voted” sticker.
“That’s basically buying an election,” he responded. “Here come out of your house, ‘Go in there, vote, here’s $20 when you come out with your sticker.’ This is corruption at its best.”
Did the $20 bill-providers walk into the booth with their recipients to see for whom they voted?
“I hope not,” Mullins replied. “I have not been told.”
Previous coverage of this race:
• On The Trail, The Political Becomes Personal
• Labor Backs Holder-Winfield
• Candidate Cries Foul At Clerk’s Office
• Holder-Winfield Files For Public Dough
• Holder-Winfield Wins Party Endorsement
• Goldson Drops Out
• Candidates Vow To Run On Clean Money
• Holder-Winfield Eyes Harp’s Senate Seat