For Pelto and Visconti, the long wait begins

Joe Visconti signs Jonathan Pelto's petition for a spot on the November ballot for governor. Pelto later signed Visconti's petition.

file photo / CT Mirror

Joe Visconti signe Jonathan Pelto’s petition. Pelto returned the favor.

Everyone knows Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is on the November ballot, and either Tom Foley or John P. McKinney will make the cut in next week’s GOP primary. But the status of two wild cards, Jonathan Pelto and Joe Visconti, won’t be known until after Aug. 20.

To qualify, each must have submitted the signatures of 7,500 registered voters by 4 p.m. Wednesday. Knowing that at least 10 percent of signatures typically are found invalid in petition drives, Visconti said he gathered at least 10,000, while Pelto acknowledged his margin of safety was thinner.

Municipal officials now have two weeks to certify the signatures: Each signature is checked in the city or town where the signer claims to be registered to vote. Once examined, the petitions are sent to the secretary of the state’s office to be tallied.

In Hartford, a running tally will be kept.

“We don’t wait until they all are in. We count as soon as we get them in,” said Av Harris, a spokesman for the office. “I’m going to give a conservative estimate that probably by the end of the month, we’re going to know if they qualify.”

Neither Pelto nor Visconti have the resources to compete with the $6.5 million general-election budgets of the two major-party nominees, but each can be a factor in what most polls show is likely to be a close race.

Pelto, a former Democratic legislator from Mansfield, is a caustic critic of the Democratic governor, primarily over education reform. Visconti, a former councilman in West Hartford, is a Tea Party activist and defender of Second Amendment rights.

Qualifying for the ballot generally is a ticket to participating in candidate debates.

Pelto said his campaign directly turned in more than 7,000 signatures, while he is confident that others collecting on his behalf filed enough for him to qualify.

One primary reason for invalidating signatures is that the signers turn out not to be registered votes. As a safeguard, Visconti said his volunteers gathered thousands of signatures from voters as they exited the polls after recent referenda in Naugatuck and other communities.

“I really believe we have submitted over 8,000 or 9,000 petitions. We started with a centralized process,” Pelto said Wednesday. “Then there are the people out their collecting on their own.”

One of his last-minute helpers was Visconti, whose volunteers collected signatures on Pelto’s behalf in downtown Hartford on Wednesday.

Pelto said he believes the principle of ballot access was a stronger draw for some signers than him. If he ends up with 8,500 signatures, they do not represent 8,500 votes for him, Pelto said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if a poll was conducted that ‘third-party candidate’ would generate more votes than the name ‘Jonathan Pelto,’ ” he said.

Visconti said his impression was the same: He believes that many signers were registering a desire for choices beyond the two major parties.

“They like the idea of having a choice. That’s probably the biggest statement I’ve heard, and that’s probably the biggest statement Jonathan heard,” Visconti said. “The public is very receptive. They want choices.”

Pelto said his names came from a cross-section of politics, driven by a range of motives. One of the signers was Ralph Nader, whose third-party candidacy for president in 2000 was blamed by some Democrats for helping George W. Bush by drawing votes from Al Gore.

“We have Ralph Nader and his sister’s signature. There will be Democratic and Republican town committee members. I believe we have at least two first selectmen, although they may of an opposing party,” Pelto said. “It is a huge cross section. There are certainly Republicans who have signed thinking it will help their candidate.”

In 2010, when Foley was the Republican nominee, he blamed his narrow loss to Malloy on Tom Marsh, a Republican first selectman who ran in November as a third-party candidate. Marsh drew more than 17,000 votes, while Foley lost by 6,404 votes.

Even in elections with exit polling, political analysts often are divided over the extent to which third-party voters would have stayed home had their been no major-party alternative on the ballot.

Still, some prominent Republicans have decided that Pelto on the ballot only can hurt Malloy. One of the people who gathered petitions for him was Chris Healy, the former GOP state chairman.

Visconti has faced the same issue: His presence on the ballot is seen as drawing gun votes away from Foley, if he wins the primary. Malloy and McKinney are reviled by many gun-rights activists over their support of post-Newtown gun controls.

Foley has sought gun votes, even though he has said he would not seek the repeal or revision of the Newtown law, which banned the sale of some military-style semiautomatic firearms and magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds.

Visconti favors repeal.

Visconti estimated that 2,000 of his signatures came from patrons at Hoffman Guns in Newington, where a volunteer manned a table outside the store daily.

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