The state legislature’s top Republicans charged Thursday that GOP candidates should have been placed at the top of the ballot during last fall’s municipal elections, and challenged Connecticut’s chief elections official to correct the matter before the state elections this November.

State law rewards the party with the best showing in the gubernatorial contest by placing its candidates first on the ballot for the next four years.

In the 2010 gubernatorial election, Democrat Dannel Malloy finished 6,404 votes ahead of Republican Tom Foley. But Foley earned all 560,874 of his votes on the GOP line. Malloy, who was endorsed by both the Democratic Party as well as the Working Families Party, collected 540,970 votes on the Democratic Party line, and 26,308 votes on the Working Families ticket.

So which party truly finished first in terms of ballot order rights? Republicans now assert it was theirs.

“Though candidate Dannel Malloy polled the most votes overall, he did so by combining the totals of two separate party lines,” the state House and Senate minority leaders, Lawrence F. Cafero of Norwalk and John P. McKinney of Fairfield, wrote Thursday to Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill. “Though sufficient for the victory, it has no bearing on the order of the parties on the ballot.”

The two GOP leaders and the Republican State Party 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.”

“The Republican Party line for governor garnered more votes than any other party line in 2010,” McKinney said. “Under Connecticut law, our candidates for state and federal office deserve the top line designation on this year’s ballot. The Republican Party has earned that.”

The GOP legislative leaders asked Merrill, a Mansfield Democrat, to confirm in writing that Republican candidates would be listed first on the ballot at the election for state and federal offices this November.

Merrill’s spokesman, Av Harris, said the secretary’s office expected to complete its review of the legal questions raised by the Republican legislators by Friday.

Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo and Jonathan Harris, the state party’s executive director, said Thursday that they believe Democrats are entitled to the top spot on the ballot.

“In my mind, the plain meaning of the statute … talks of the highest number of votes collectively” received by a party’s gubernatorial candidate, and not necessarily votes tied just to one line, Jonathan Harris said. “If you look at the plain language of this statute, it indicates the Democrats should be on line A.”

The GOP legislative leaders also wrote to Merrill that New York faced “the identical issue” in 1995 and determined that while Republican George Pataki had defeated Democrat Mario Cuomo in the 1994 gubernatorial contest, Cuomo received more votes on the Democratic line that Pataki had on the GOP line. Pataki also had been endorsed by New York’s Conservative Party and received enough votes on that line to gain the victory.

“We believe we have a solid case to make that Republican candidates for office this fall should be placed first based on the results of the 2010 gubernatorial election,” Cafero said. “We have case law to support our position.”

Cafero said Republicans didn’t raise the issue before last fall’s balloting because they didn’t realize that the law was interpreted improperly. “Maybe shame on us, but it never occurred to us,” he said.

State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he began to research state election law in May after someone mentioned Malloy’s Working Families Party support at a dinner party. Fasano added that this led him to review the New York case over the summer.

Cafero added that because Republicans didn’t realize initially they were entitled to the top line, he believes Merrill’s office might have accidentally made the wrong assumption as well.

“I have had a good working relationship with the secretary of the state and I know she cares deeply about the integrity of our elections,” Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola said. “In light of the facts and arguments we have presented, I am confident she will make the right decision and follow state law.”

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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