Monday, September 30, 2013
Judge Orders Save Westport Now Back on Ballot
By James Lomuscio
Booted from the Nov. 5 ballot last week over a technicality, Save Westport Now (SWN) will now have ballot access on Election Day, a Stamford Superior Court judge ruled today.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth B. Povodator: issues ballot placement order. Contributed photo
Judge Kenneth B. Povodator ordered Westport Town Clerk Patricia Strauss to give SWN endorsed and nominated candidates for the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z)—Democrats Andra Vebell, David Lessing and Alan Hodge—a SWN place on the ballot in addition to their names on Democratic line. The move drew praise from Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
“Judge Povodator’s decision is good for the voters of Westport,” Merrill said in a statement. “It is always in the best interest of voters to have choices on the ballot, and I am relieved the judge resolved this issue.”
Founded in the 1980s to save Gorham Island from development, a bid that failed, SWN is a third party, environmental and preservation advocacy group. It has typically endorsed and nominated Democratic candidates for the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), although last election it endorsed Republicans.
Westport Town Attorney Ira Bloom said last week the SWN candidates were bumped due to a technicality of a 2011 state law “which made some technical changes to the certification filing process for third party candidates.”
Specifically, it required the candidates to sign the forms due at the Town Clerk’s Office by Sept. 4. They did not. The matter, as it did in a number of other towns throughout Connecticut, came to the attention of the Secretary of the State’s office, and based on the law, it was the opinion of that office that the candidates not be on the ballot, according to Bloom.
“It was never the intention of my office or any town clerk to keep candidates from this minor party or others off the ballot this November,” Merrill said. “As Judge Povodator aptly put it in court today, the legal requirement for a candidate to sign the endorsement paperwork for a minor party is not a trivial or technical matter.
“This law exists so that a candidate for office cannot be nominated by a political party without their knowledge or consent,” she added. “We have consistently advised local town clerks that state election law clearly says a signature is required for minor party endorsements.
Merrill said over the past weeks her office has fielded requests from town clerks to waive the legal requirement “if the minor party made its best effort to turn in their endorsement paperwork correctly.”
“There is no legal authority for a town clerk to ignore the law and permit a candidate onto the ballot if they or their party have not done what was legally required of them,” Merrill said. “In a municipal election, there is also no legal authority for my office to intervene and change the outcome for a minor party or overrule the decision of a town clerk.”
Courts, she said, are “the appropriate venue.”
“I am glad the ballot in Westport is now set in a way that benefits the minor party candidates, the town clerk, and most importantly, the voters,” said Merrill.
The combined Democrat/Save Westport Now slate will face three candidates by the new minority Coalition for Westport party. Its candidates are David Press, a former Republican P&Z commissioner; Glenn Payne, an unaffiliated voter, and Denise Lassman Torve, a Democrat.
Povodator stipulated that the three candidates, represented in court by Thomas C.C. Sargent of Sargent, Sargent & Jacobs LLC in Westport, be placed on the ballot “notwithstanding plaintiffs’ failure to comply with the requirement” of the law.
Provodator, appointed to the bench by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in January 2012, is a former assistant corporation counsel in Stamford where Malloy was mayor.
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