New London Green Party mulls challenge to secretary of the state

New London — The leader of the New London Green Party said the party is considering a court challenge to a decision by the Secretary of the State’s Office to bar its mayoral candidate from the election ballot because of missing paperwork.

Green Party mayoral candidate Frida Berrigan was notified earlier this week that the state had not received a required endorsement letter before a Sept. 4 deadline.

The Greens argue they sent the required letter but admit they failed to double check that the paperwork was received before the deadline. The Secretary of the State’s Office claims it never got it.

Berrigan has decided to continue her campaign as a write-in candidate against incumbent Democratic Mayor Michael Passero and Republican challenger Marty Olsen.

New London Green Party Chairwoman Ronna Stuller said the party still is mulling its options.

“We had not really been thinking about going to court but I have to say a couple of things I’ve heard in the last 24 hours are causing me to rethink that,” Stuller said. “It’s a decision that has to be made very quickly.”

A spokesman with the Secretary of the State’s Office said he was sympathetic but “the statutes do not give us any discretion at this point,” to place Berrigan’s name on the ballot.

“I don’t know the reason we didn’t receive it ... but we don’t have the authority to place someone on the ballot,” Gabe Rosenberg said.

The Secretary of the State’s Office, Rosenberg said, does have a file for Berrigan and the paperwork regarding her successful nominating petition. Berrigan had to collect 33 signatures to gain ballot access. The file does not have her endorsement letter, however, which officially identifies her as a candidate.

Rosenberg said he wouldn’t be surprised by a court challenge. “Historically there really are a metric ton of examples of people filing in court to force us to put them on the ballot. Many of these have been successful,” he said.

One recent example is the case of former state representative Vickie Nardello, who won enough votes at a Democratic convention in 2018 to run in a primary for state Senate but was denied access to the ballot by the Secretary of the State’s Office because of a technical error.

A state form was missing the correct senatorial district in which she was running, the 16th district covering Prospect, Southington, Wolcott and parts of Cheshire and Waterbury. A judge later ordered that Nardello’s name appear on the ballot.

Mistakes and technical errors “happen more often than you might think,” Rosenberg said.

It’s the reason that Rosenberg said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill last year proposed legislation aimed at modernizing aspects of the state’s election system, including measures to give the office the ability to “fix harmless errors” and allow electronic signatures to boost the number of online registrations.

The legislature did not enact the changes. It’s unclear if the legislation would have changed the outcome in Berrigan’s case but Rosenberg said the office agrees that some of the paperwork associated with elections needs to be moved online.

As an example, under the current system, someone seeking an absentee ballot who might be out of state must mail an application to their voting district. The absentee ballot is mailed back to the voter to be filled out and mailed back again.

Voter registration online is currently limited to people with a driver’s license, since the state can verify a signature through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“It’s 2019. We want people to be able to register online, including kids who don’t want to get a license at the age of 16 ... or college students. We’re working really hard to figure out how to make the system better,” Rosenberg said.

Stuller said she wholeheartedly supports modernization efforts.

“The current system is so archaic, so dependent on large amounts of paper that forests are shuddering every election season,” she said. “I don’t even think paper is all that secure anymore.”

Stuller said there was an ironic twist related to a letter Berrigan received from the Secretary of the State's Office on Thursday.

It was a letter informing her she had missed the deadline to submit an endorsement letter and gain ballot access. The letter mentioned that an application was enclosed for her to fill out and become a write-in candidate.

However, there was no application enclosed.

g.smith@theday.com 

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