In yet another bizarre election season, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis will decide if/when a Democratic primary for mayor features Mayor Bill Finch and challenger Mary-Jane Foster and her slate of candidates rejected by Democratic Registrar Santa Ayala for one too many candidates for Board of Education after Ayala notified Town Clerk Alma Maya that Foster had enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Ayala has carved out another dramatic moment in the city’s election history after failing last year to print enough ballots to accommodate general election voters. Lawyers for Foster’s slate and Ayala made their final arguments Wednesday afternoon one day after Judge Bellis posed a series of questions in no doubt what is uncharted waters for an election challenge. We’ve seen many election challenges through the years after a vote has been tallied, but few (if any) involving this kind of complaint based on a candidate rejection.
As we approach Labor Day weekend, the judge announced she’d issue her decision 3:00pm Friday. Judge Bellis posed a key courtroom observation Wednesday afternoon: had the Foster slate proposed 900-plus candidates for BOE wouldn’t Ayala have a duty to say something? What’s the difference whether it’s one or 900 extra candidates, doesn’t a registrar have a duty to point out what he/she thinks is something wrong? Ayala’s legal team says the registrar has no legal obligation to point out a consent mistake. Foster’s campaign team rolled the dice on the number of candidates allowed and crapped out, says Deputy City Attorney Art Laske who represents Ayala on behalf of the city.
Foster’s lawyers have asked the judge to push back the primary a few weeks. If there is a primary September 13, what a mad scramble for votes with just days remaining. Surreal is the word. If the judge sides with the city, will Foster ask the state Supremes to step in?
Will the judge err on the side of democracy? Ayala, weighing legal advice, went the other way. If the judge rules with Ayala based on her not having an obligation to tell the Foster camp of her candidate surplus concern, the state legislature should pass a law making it an obligation to inform. This holier-than-thou contention that lay people, even if experienced campaign hands, should know campaign qualification law is a bunch of crap. A public official such as Ayala (and any other registrar) should have the legal obligation to point out consent concerns before and not after the fact, if such a statutory duty does not now already exist.
Connecticut’s esteemed legislature passes perplexing laws that often seem unclear to lawyers, citizens and the media. Lawyers write the language, elected legislators vote the language into law and then lawyers and judges figure out what the hell they’re trying to say.
A public official in any capacity has a duty to inform when they think something looks screwy. Next case.
The countdown to the judge’s decision has begun.