Will third time be the charm? The Connecticut Supreme Court Friday morning upheld Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis’ decision to order a third Democratic primary in the City Council’s 133rd District based on what she ruled absentee ballot fraud. That means the parties will get together for a status conference to schedule a new primary between party endorsed Michael DeFilippo and Jeanette Herron challenged by Bob Keeley and Anne Pappas Phillips. The top two finishers will face Republicans Michele Minutolo and Neville De la Rosa in the general election to be scheduled.
“I never had a doubt in my mind,” said Pete Finch, son of former Mayor Bill Finch, the attorney who argued on Keeley’s behalf before the Supreme Court. “This is what you get in Bridgeport. It should help instill people’s faith in our justice system. When you go to the highest court and they think reasonably this is what American democracy is all about and to take down corruption in our hometown. I’d be interested to see if there are any charges brought by the state in connection with the case.”
Bellis ordered a transcript of the court case sent to state law enforcement officials regarding the measures taken by Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa to secure absentee ballots on behalf of DeFilippo. Testa had asked Police Chief AJ Perez to assign a city police officer to pick up ballots from electors.
The first primary back in September ended in a tie between Keeley and Herron with DeFilippo the leading vote producer. A recount included a previously unaccounted-for absentee ballot for Herron giving her a one-vote edge. Keeley challenged the results. Bellis ordered a new primary.
In the do-over Keeley was down 18 votes to Herron with DeFilippo once again leading. Keeley, who failed to win the machine count, and Phillips challenged the legality of their opponents absentee ballot operation. Bellis concurred ordering another primary. Bellis said Testa prevailing upon Police Chief AJ Perez to assign a police officer to pick up absentee ballots was an abuse of the election process.
The city was among several parties that appealed Bellis’ decision to the Supreme Court.
“City election officials were obviously reluctant to nullify the election results because doing so disenfranchises the known will of the voters,” said Deputy City Attorney John Bohannon who argued the case for the city. “Although the rationale for the Supreme Court’s decision is unknown at this point, the way it answered the reserved questions of law indicates that it identified requirements or prohibitions that are not apparent in the plain text of our election statutes.”
ORDER by Court
The above-captioned case, which was heard on December 21, 2017, involves four questions of law reserved to this Court in accordance with the provisions of General Statutes § 9-325. Those certified questions, and this Court’s answers to those questions, based upon the specific facts of this case, are as follows:
(1) “Does General Statutes § 9-140b prohibit any person other than the elector from arranging for a designee to return an elector’s absentee ballot to the Town Clerk?”
(2) “Did the trial court err in rejecting twelve absentee ballots that were stamped but not postmarked on the ground that they were not ‘mailed’ pursuant to General Statutes § 9-140b?”
(3) “Did the trial court err in deciding that the administration of the supervised absentee balloting at the Northridge Health Care Center did not meet minimum standards required by law?”
(4) “Did the trial court err in applying the burden of proof, and in rejecting votes validly cast by electors, thereby undermining the trial court’s conclusion that there were substantial statutory violations that left the reliability of the election seriously in doubt?”
In view of this Court’s agreement with the conclusions of the trial court in relation to the first, second and fourth certified questions, we conclude, consistent with the determination of the trial court, that a second special election is required. The case is therefore remanded to the trial court for any further proceedings that the trial court may deem appropriate not inconsistent with this order. A full written opinion of this Court will be issued in due course. So ordered.