House Republicans fail in getting new vote for Stratford
Democrats late Wednesday were able to beat back a surprise Republican attempt to force a special election for a contested state House of Representatives seat in Stratford.
But unless a bipartisan deal is made, the controversy is likely to come back in other election-related legislation between now and midnight June 5, when the General Assembly session ends.
“This issue is relevant to anything having to do with elections,” state Rep. Jason Perillo said the morning of Thursday, April 25, 12 hours after majority Democrats defeated the proposal to set a special election for the 120th District seat narrowly won in November by Democratic Rep. Phil Young. “This thing is not going away.”
Perillo said the four-member committee studying the issues around Election Day mishaps at Bunnell High School finished its work in February.
“It’s almost May and the fact we haven’t addressed this yet is a disgrace,” Perillo said in a phone interview. Even if a special election were scheduled soon, it would not be held until well after the current legislative session ends. “There have been conversations going on for months. We’re ready to move ahead, but at the end of the day we don’t control the House.”
Republicans tried to force the issue with an amendment they attached to a popular piece of legislation on early voting.
But the move failed when majority leaders ruled it out of order and Democrats rejected an appeal along party lines, 90-59, with Young voting against the Republicans.
Perillo said that the GOP proposal had been mostly drafted by Democrats. “I think there definitely needs to be a new election,” he said. “It can’t be one polling place. The case law in Connecticut is very clear that a new election needs to resemble the first election as close as possible.”
The issue came up at about 9 p.m. when Perillo, R-Shelton, declared that more than five months after Young was declared the winner by 13 votes over Republican Jim Feehan, it was time to finally schedule a special election.
“That committee agreed largely on the facts,” Perillo told House members, before he was interrupted by House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, who charged that the amendment was not appropriate for the underlying legislation: an amendment to the state Constitution to allow the General Assembly to create for early voting opportunities.
“What is the basis for the ruling that it is not germane?” asked Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury. After a five-minute delay in which Democrats reviewed rules, they declared the GOP proposal irrelevant. O’Neill said that since the issue was related to voting, he believed Perillo’s amendment to give Stratford voters a chance to cast ballot again was the right thing to do.
“This amendment is not amending the state Constitution,” Ritter replied.
“The resolution before us is about doing whatever we can as a legislature to ensure that the voters are enfranchise, are given that opportunity to vote,” Perillo said then on the House floor. “In fact, in November, voters waited in long lines and voted with extraordinary turnout because they knew that their vote would make a difference,” he said, quoting previous statements from Gov. Ned Lamont when he accepted the oath of office in January.
“Yet here we had a situation in the 120th District where 76 individuals walked into a polling place and were disenfranchised,” Perillo said. Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz then ruled that Perillo’s remarks were not addressing the issue of the appropriateness of the GOP proposal. “I’m ruling you out of order, sir,” Aresimowicz said.
“The facts are very clear,” Perillo replied. “The facts were agreed upon by all four members of the committee. And the amendment that’s before us is aimed at ensuring that no voters in this race were disenfranchised.”
On Election Day, a young poll worker accidentally gave out the wrong ballots to voters who should have been casting their ballots in another section of the school.
About 75 voters at Bunnell were inadvertently given the wrong ballots.
Aresimowicz on Thursday afternoon said that Democrats still want to negotiate a bipartisan way forward.
“We believe the standard wasn’t met to take the unprecedented step of ordering a new election, but there are ongoing discussions about potential settlements, including a targeted recanvass in the one precinct in question,” He said in a statement. “There has been a lot of focus on the 75 ballots, but I don’t think there has been enough attention on the related problem of invalidating the thousands of votes properly cast throughout the district, and the potential precedent going forward for future elections.”
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