Sen. Fasano to CT Secretary of the State: “Ensure integrity of the election system” [CT Post]

November 3, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

BRIDGEPORT – Pressure is growing on the Secretary of the State to proactively send observers to monitor the city’s polls for fraud in Tuesday’s historic mayoral election.

Republican state Senate leaders Monday in a letter urged Democrat Denise Merrill to reconsider her decision not to send watchdogs to Connecticut’s largest city, which has a reputation for political corruption, voting fraud and Election Day mess ups.

“If there is any concern that the sanctity of the election process could be tainted, your office needs to take affirmative steps to ensure that process is protected,” Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, ranking member of the legislature’s committee on elections, wrote Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

Good government group Connecticut Common Cause in a statement said they too were dismayed with Merrill’s position.

On Friday Merrill turned down a request by independent Democrat Mary-Jane Foster’s mayoral campaign to proactively monitor the Bridgeport polls for fraud Tuesday, arguing the Secretary of the State’s office can only respond to specific complaints.

The major-party mayoral candidates – in this case Democrat Joseph Ganim, an ex-mayor, and Republican City Councilman Enrique Torres – can, by statute, send unofficial watchers to the polls.
But petition candidates like Foster can only do so if they are running on a slate of three.

Though Foster has been endorsed by outgoing Mayor Bill Finch and inherited some of his campaign infrastructure, she has no other candidates on her ballot line and cannot send supporters to monitor the polls.

Poll watchers also provide a competitive benefit to campaigns because they keep tabs on who is turning out at the polls and use that information to bolster get-out-the-vote strategies.

The Foster campaign has also argued Ganim’s criminal history – after serving 12 years as mayor he was convicted in 2003 of corruption – is even more reason for the state to carefully scrutinize Tuesday’s vote.

“A request by any candidate, no matter their party affiliation, should always be taken seriously when they are seeking help to ensure the integrity of the election system,” Fasano and McLachlan wrote to Merrill.

While the GOP is vastly outnumbered in Bridgeport, Torres and his allies have argued he has a chance at winning given the split in the Democratic Party.

And Common Cause argued the state statute giving the poll watching advantage to the two major parties is outdated, given a recent Pew Research Center poll found that most voters – 39 percent – identify themselves as independents with no party affiliation.

“There has been good work done by the Secretary to secure elections statewide and to provide training for and demand accountability of election workers,” said Common Cause. “In that line of election protection we believe that the Secretary should send election observers into the polls where there are minor or third parties on the ballot.”

Fasano and McLachlan also echoed the Foster campaign’s concerns that Bridgeport has already been involved in some high profile voting controversies, from running out of ballots in 2010’s close gubernatorial election, to numerous cases of absentee ballot fraud.

Also in 2013 the state Elections Enforcement Commission recommended that the chief state’s attorney prosecute Democratic Registrar of Voters Santa Ayala and her daughter, then-state Rep. Christina Ayala, for conspiring to let Christina Ayala use a false address while voting, campaigning and participating in the state’s public campaign-finance program.

Christina Ayala in September pleaded guilty, but her mother was never charged.

The Ayala family, through Christina Ayala and Santa’s ex-husband, Tito Ayala, has been supporting Ganim in his bid to return to office