Committee to act like court in contested Stratford election
A committee on the contested election for the state House seat representing Stratford’s 120th District will handle the issue like a court case, lawmakers agreed on Friday.
During a 20-minute meeting of the House Committee on Contested Elections, its first since a similar case in 1985, members said they would ask for the submission of evidence and seek testimony from witnesses.
While state Rep. Phil Young was narrowly elected in November and took the oath of office Wednesday, the results could be upended and another election with GOP challenger James Feehan could result.
“It’s not lost on me ... the significance of what we need to do today and going forward,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, one of the committee’s four members. “This body potentially is the last stop for recourse for anybody — not just the voters in the 120th district, but both candidates.”
The committee asked Young and Feehan to offer evidence and a list of witnesses by Tuesday evening. On Jan. 18, Young and Feehan will have the opportunity to give opening statements. The panel then plans to call on witnesses, and at some point to hold a hearing for the general public. Young and Feehan will be able to give closing arguments, before the committee drafts a report with its findings and recommendation.
The committee has already received a formal, written complaint from the Feehan campaign about the election, said state Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, during the meeting in the State Capitol complex. The two other members of the commission are Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, and Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Storrs.
The committee has until Feb. 4 to decide whether a new election should be held.
On Election Day, there was an apparent mix-up at the Bunnell High School polling place, which served voters from two adjacent House districts. The issue was contested in Superior Court, then moved to the state Supreme Court, which said it was a matter for the state House of Representatives to decide.
D’Agostino said Friday that despite the two previous court proceedings, the committee would provide Young’s and Feehan’s campaigns their first opportunity to present their own evidence about the election, in a hearing.
The four committee members emphasized in opening remarks Friday that their work should be careful to avoid the perception of partisanship, and that they should be mindful of the precedent their work may set. However, in a straight vote on the issue, House Democrats, with a 92-59 majority, could easily push through Young’s victory.
D’Agostino said a new election should not be ordered lightly, because it is impossible to recreate the circumstances of a previous election, like campaign momentum or voters’ motivation. Quoting from a 1999 Connecticut Supreme Court case, he argued that a new election is always a different election.
“An election is essentially and necessarily a snapshot,” D’Agostino said. “The snapshot can never be duplicated.”
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