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Arciniega v. Feliciano

Supreme Court of Connecticut

June 15, 2018


          Argued May 3, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action for a writ of mandamus compelling, inter alia, the invalidation of certain petitions created for candidates for the Hartford Democratic Town Committee primary, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the court, Shapiro, J., granted the motion filed by Alyssa Peterson et al. to intervene as defendants; thereafter, the intervening defendant Alyssa Peterson et al. filed a counterclaim; subsequently, the case was tried to the court; judgment for the plaintiffs on the complaint and on the counterclaim, from which the intervening defendant Alyssa Peterson appealed. Reversed in part; judgment directed.

          Alyssa Peterson, self-represented, the appellant (intervening defendant).

          John B. Kennelly, for the appellees (named plaintiff et al.).

          Palmer, McDonald, Robinson, D'Auria, Mullins and Kahn, Js. [*]


          MCDONALD, J.

         The question presented to us in this election case, brought under General Statutes § 9-329a, concerns the validity of petitions submitted to qualify a slate of candidates to run for election to the Democratic Town Committee for the sixth district of the city of Hartford. Specifically, it concerns whether election officials are required to reject such petitions if the circulator of the petitions knows or should know that the petitions contain an incorrect address for one of the candidates listed, irrespective of whether the candidate would be qualified to run for the position listed on the petitions under the correct address. We conclude that the threshold and, ultimately, dispositive issue is whether the acceptance of such a petition constitutes a ‘‘ruling of an election official, '' which is an essential predicate to a party's standing to proceed under § 9-329a. We conclude that it does not. Accordingly, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of this claim.

         Before we turn to the particular facts of this case, it is helpful to set forth the legal landscape that informs the significance of those facts. In the city of Hartford, Democratic Town Committee members are elected on a district basis rather than at large. See General Statutes § 9-431 (b). A person is eligible to be a candidate for a political party's town committee if that person's name appears on the last completed enrollment list of the party in the district within which that person is to be nominated. General Statutes § 9-406. If not endorsed by the party, the candidate must file petitions with the municipality's registrar of voters containing the signatures of a specified percentage of electors, whose names also appear on the last completed enrollment list of that party in the district, in support of his or her candidacy. General Statutes §§ 9-406 and 9-410.

         Any person requesting petition forms to commence this process must provide to the registrar the name, address, and office or position sought of the candidate for whom the petition is being obtained, as well as a statement signed by the candidate indicating his or her consent to be a candidate for that office or position (consent form). General Statutes § 9-409. In turn, the registrar types or prints on the petition form the name and address of each such candidate, the office sought, and the political party holding the primary. General Statutes § 9-409.

         Various provisions prescribe the eligibility of persons signing the petitions, the contents of each petition page, and the eligibility of persons circulating the petitions to collect signatures (circulator). General Statutes §§ 9-409, 9-410, 9-411 and 9-431. On each petition page, the circulator must certify his or her eligibility and attest to the veracity of the information collected from the electors signing the petitions. General Statutes § 9-410 (c).

         When the petitions are returned, the registrar verifies that they conform to specified mandates. The registrar must reject any petition page that fails to contain the requisite certifications by the circulator or that was circulated in violation of the specified procedures. General Statutes § 9-410 (b) and (c). The registrar also must reject any signature of any person whose name does not appear on the last completed enrollment list in the district. General Statutes § 9-412. After certifying the number of signatures on each valid petition page that conforms to the requirements, the registrar files the certified pages with the clerk of the municipality, together with the registrar's certificate as to the whole number of names on the last completed enrollment list of such party in the district. General Statutes § 9-412.

         The registrar notifies the municipal clerk if a primary is required, providing the candidates' names, addresses, and the titles of the office or position for which they are candidates. General Statutes § 9-435. The clerk, in turn, causes that notice to be published and to be filed with the Secretary of the State. General Statutes § 9-435.

         With regard to the aforementioned procedures, the following facts in the present case were either found by the trial court or are otherwise undisputed. At all relevant times prior to March 6, 2018, the named defendant, Giselle Feliciano, was the Democratic registrar of voters for the city of Hartford, and the defendant John V. Bazzano was the clerk of the city of Hartford. A Democratic Town Committee primary was scheduled to take place on March 6, 2018, between two slates of candidates, the Arciniega slate[1] and the Peterson slate, [2]after the defendants determined that each slate had timely submitted sufficient signatures to qualify to run for election. On February 9, 2018, the Arciniega slate commenced an action against the defendants under General Statutes §§ 9-329a (a) and 9-329b, seeking a writ of mandamus compelling the defendants to reject certain allegedly fraudulent elector signatures on the Peterson slate's petitions and to declare that the Peterson slate had obtained insufficient support to qualify as candidates. The Peterson slate thereafter sought and was granted permission to intervene in the action. See footnote 2 of this opinion.

         Upon intervening, the Peterson slate filed a counterclaim against the defendants and the Arciniega slate under § 9-329a, seeking a declaration that the Arciniega slate was not qualified to run. The counterclaim alleged that one of the candidates on the Arciniega slate, Jacqueline Nadal, had falsely listed 646 New Britain Avenue as her residential address on her candidate consent form, which was an address where Nadal was registered to vote but had not resided for at least eight months. The counterclaim alleged that Nadal currently resided at 370 Freeman Street, and that this fact was known, or should have been known, to the circulators of the petitions containing the New Britain Avenue address. The counterclaim further alleged that the defendants were responsible for accepting and verifying the petitions and, as such, should have rejected the Arciniega slate's petitions.

         On February 21, 2018, the trial court rendered judgment in favor of the Arciniega slate on both the Arciniega slate's complaint and the Peterson slate's counterclaim. With regard to the complaint, the court directed the defendants to reject all elector signatures submitted in support of the Peterson slate that had been proven to be fraudulent, and to remove ...

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