Vote 2022: Stefanowski and minor party face off in court over ballot snub
The race for governor moved to a Hartford courtroom on Thursday. Attorneys for Republican Bob Stefanowski accused a minor political party of ignoring its own rules to deny him a critical second line on the November ballot.
Stefanowski sued after the Independent Party of Connecticut declined to cross-endorse him. Instead, the party put its own candidate on the ballot, Cheshire banker Rob Hotaling.
Party chair Mike Telesca cast the tie-breaking vote during a chaotic caucus meeting on Aug. 23. Stefanowski’s attorneys contend Independent Party bylaws don’t allow for “ranked choice” voting, which gave Hotaling four extra votes from a third candidate. They also say Telesca was required to hold a new vote if neither candidate received 51%.
Stefanowski did not attend Thursday’s trial. But his attorney, Jared Cohane, grilled Telesca on the witness stand.
"So the bylaws to you are just suggestions,” he said. “You can follow them at your whim?"
Telesca replied: "No, that is not true at all. We use them for guidance."
In 2018, Stefanowski won the Independent Party endorsement. It snagged him an extra 25,000 votes. Gov. Ned Lamont's Working Families line nabbed him 17,000 more votes. This year, Lamont will appear on the ballot three times. Stefanowski wants Hotaling tossed off the ballot.
Two Independent Party members who support Stefanowski joined the lawsuit.
"Being a member of the Independent Party for as many years as I was, I never saw such a disgraceful act against the voters of the Independent Party,” said Lawrence DePillo, one of the plaintiffs.
Another plaintiff, Cynthia McCorkindale, said Telesca’s move invalidated her vote.
"If you don't have a process, what do you have?” she testified. “I felt that the process was so not followed that it almost didn't matter."
If Stefanowski’s lawsuit succeeds, the Independent Party could lose its line on the next gubernatorial ballot in 2026. After the hearing, Telesca likened the Republican candidate to a wealthy bully out for revenge.
"I think it's also just being sort of vicious because they're not going to get the line,” he said. “They just want to get us off the line and I think that's really mean-spirited on his part."
The clock is ticking. Ballots have to go out to town clerks by next Thursday, so Judge Cesar Noble said he'll rule by then.