The Connecticut Supreme Court on Wednesday gave Republicans the top line on the ballot this fall, negating a would-be benefit of Democrat Dannel P. Malloy’s victory as governor in 2010.

State law gives the party of the gubernatorial victor the top line, but the court agreed with the GOP that only the votes cast for Malloy on the Democratic line should count in determining ballot order.

Malloy narrowly defeated Republican Tom Foley two years ago as a Democrat cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party. Without the 26,308 votes cast on the minor-party line, Malloy would have lost, 560,874 to 540,970.

The court released its order overruling Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who denied a GOP appeal of the ballot order, without a full opinion.

“The law is the law. The Supreme Court, we believe, arrived at the right decision based on what the statute says, not a public official’s interpretation,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. “Our legal team did a great job.”

Most experts say the top line is an advantage, but it has not been decisive for the Connecticut GOP, which holds no statewide or congressional offices in Connecticut and is the minority in both houses of the General Assembly. Malloy said the ballot position is insignificant.

“I was on line B when I won,” he said. “It is silly.”

Democrats lost the top line in 1990 to Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and his A Connecticut Party. Republicans won it in 1994, with the first of four straight gubernatorial victories: three by John G. Rowland and one by M. Jodi Rell.

Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, faulted Merrill, who is a Democrat, for denying the Republicans’ original objection to the ballot order.

Merrill said the law, which was written before cross-endorsements became common in Connecticut, was ambiguous.

“We did our research. We made our judgment. The statue, at best, is open to in interpretation,” Merrill said.

Attorney General George Jepsen, also a Democrat, defended her office in court.

“I’m disappointed that the Secretary of State’s office and the office of the Attorney General chose to defend partisan political interests rather than mete out the public responsibilities of their office,” McKinney said.

Susan Kinsman, a spokeswoman for Jepsen, said it was the office’s responsibility.

“Sen. McKinney appears not to realize that it is the legal responsibility of the office of the attorney general to represent and defend state agencies in court,” she said. “We respect the court’s decision and are pleased the ballot issue has been settled in time for the secretary of the state and municipalities to prepare for the general election.”

The court decision will not require new ballots: Merrill had waited for the court’s decision to order printed ballots.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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