GOP goes to court to secure top line on November ballot

The Connecticut Republican Party announced Thursday it has taken the battle for control of the top line on the November ballot to court.

The action comes two weeks after Connecticut’s top elections official, Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill, rejected a Republican argument that while 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley lost that contest, the party won the top ballot spot for the next four years based on his vote tally.

“Unfortunately the secretary’s unfounded and apparently partisan-driven position leaves us no choice but to seek redress in the courts,” Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola wrote in a statement released late Thursday. Merrill, a Democrat from Mansfield, won her first term as secretary in 2010.

“We believe the secretary of the state’s interpretation is wrong and it would be unfair to Connecticut voters to allow these elections to proceed unlawfully,” Labriola added.

Democrat Dannel P. Malloy garnered the most votes for governor in 2010, outpolling Foley 567,278 votes to 560,874. But while Foley appeared in just one place on the 2010 ballot — the line for the Republican nominee — Malloy received 540,970 votes on the Democratic line, and 26,308 votes by virtue of also being the nominee of the Working Families Party.

The GOP cited Section 9-249a of the Connecticut General Statutes. It states that “the party whose candidate for governor polled the highest number of votes in the last-preceding election” appears first on the ballot.

And it also states that “other parties who had candidates for governor in the last-preceding election” would have their candidates on future ballots “in descending order, according to the number of votes polled for each such candidate.”

But Merrill wrote to Labriola on July 27 that Democrats earned the top spot given that Malloy garnered the most votes for governor — regardless of the fact that he received them from two different party lines on the 2010 ballot.

Merrill also argued that the Working Families Party technically didn’t even have “minor party status” for the gubernatorial race under the law during the 2010 campaign.

The party, a pro-labor organization, has had organizational papers filed with the state since the mid-2000s, and was entitled to a spot on the gubernatorial ballot because it filed petition papers in 2010.

But it didn’t gain “minor party status” for that office until after the 2010 election. Under state law, such status is conferred when more than 1 percent of the voters casting ballots for an office do so for the minor party candidate.

“We’re going to review the lawsuit thoroughly before responding, but we’re confident in our legal reasoning,” Av Harris, Merrill’s spokesman, said Thursday evening. “We researched the matter very carefully and we feel we’re absolutely correct in our application of the law.”

The state House and Senate minority leaders, Lawrence F. Cafero of Norwalk and John P. McKinney of Fairfield, had joined Labriola in arguing the Republicans deserve the top ballot spot.

“While going to court is never a first option, we strongly feel that this is our party’s only recourse,” Cafero said. “The 2012 election is of critical importance to both our state and our country and Republican candidates running for office ought not to be placed as a disadvantage by an inaccurate reading of a statute by a Democratic official.”