Rep. Philip Young, D-Stratford, the winner of a contested election marred by a ballot mixup at one polling place in November, will be sworn in Wednesday, despite the reservations of Republicans. But his victory still will be reviewed by a special bipartisan House committee.
“They can subpoena witnesses and then make a report to the General Assembly,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.
The House Democratic leadership is following the precedent set in January 1985, the last time a contested election came before the House — and also the last time Republicans controlled the chamber.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the House will adopt a resolution creating a Committee on Contested Elections shortly after it opens its 2019 legislative session on Wednesday and swears in 90 Democrats and 59 Republicans.
Democrats won 92 seats in November, but Reps. James Albis of East Haven and Chris Soto of New London will not take the oath Wednesday, instead joining the administration of Gov.-elect Ned Lamont.
A resolution sponsored by Aresimowicz and Ritter set a deadline of Feb. 4 for the committee to report. Aresimowicz will appoint the chair of the committee, who will “have the power to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses by subpoena, require the production of any necessary records, books, papers or other documents, and to administer oaths to witnesses before the committee.”
The resolution authorizes the provision of “such staff and facilities, including administrative personnel, supplies and equipment, that the committee on contested elections may require to discharge its duties.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she had hoped that Young would not take office until the special committee concludes its investigation, but she acknowledged that his victory has been certified since the Supreme Court found no basis to block it.
Klarides said she anticipates a fact-gathering process that includes interviews of poll workers, disenfranchised voters and other witnesses. She declined to speculate how long that would take.
“It should take less time than everything else in government takes because this is very important,” she said.
At issue 34 years ago were allegations of irregularities in absentee ballots cast in an election for an open seat won by Joan Hartley of Waterbury, a Democrat. She defied a GOP tide in 1984 to succeed a future governor, Republican John G. Rowland, who was elected to Congress, helped by Ronald Reagan’s landslide win in Connecticut.
Hartley, who won by a scant two votes after a recount, said Tuesday she was one of the 66 Democrats and 85 Republicans sworn in on the opening day of the 1985 session. But her status was not fully resolved until a contested-election committee found no reason to unseat her. Hartley is now a state senator.
Under the House rules in effect in 1985, Hartley’s election was reviewed by a committee of two Republicans and one Democrat. The rules now call for a bipartisan review of two Democrats and two Republicans.
Two months ago, Young defeated Republican Jim Feehan by 13 votes after a recount in the 120th House District, but Republicans say 75 or 76 voters were handed wrong ballots at Bunnell High School, a polling place shared by two districts, the 120th and 122nd.
Feehan sued local election officials in hopes of forcing a new election, saying that the voters handed the wrong ballots were disenfranchised. A Superior Court judge dismissed the claim, noting the Connecticut Constitution unambiguously gave the House sole control over disputed House elections.
The state Supreme Court quickly agreed with the trial judge after oral arguments last month, ordering the lifting of an injunction that had barred the secretary of the state from certifying Young’s victory.
Klarides said the House should review the claims of voter disenfranchisement.
“You want to talk about voters being disenfranchised,” she said. “We hear that phrase all over the place, but somehow because it happened in a suburb nobody seems to care about it. It’s a big deal.”