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School Board Hopeful Joining Town Clerk Write-In Candidate On November Ballot

Published: October 7, 2017

Ann LoBosco, who decided to pursue a write-in candidacy for town clerk following an unsuccessful Republican Primary challenge in September, will be joined on the November 7 municipal election ballot by fellow Republican Board of Education candidate Deborra Zukowski, who was forced to withdraw from the GOP’s party line and will now also mount a write-in campaign.

While Ms LoBosco’s write-in run for town clerk was a matter of choice following her primary loss, Ms Zukowski’s move from an official GOP endorsed candidate to a write-in line on the November ballot resulted from a complex snafu involving a state election statute and a recent Newtown Charter revision.

The mechanics of how this happened are complex, with even Town Attorney David Grogins expressing exasperation about a convoluted clash between state ballot statutes and a Newtown Charter provision involving the minimum minority makeup of Newtown’s school board.

Following conversations with the town attorney and First Selectman Pat Llodra, it seems ironic that the current situation involving the endorsed school board candidate resulted from a provision that was removed by the latest Charter Revision Commission, on which Ms Zukowski served.

According to Mr Grogins, during a complicated and protracted re-refining process to make Newtown’s constitutional document more readable and user-friendly, the commission somehow deleted a very brief but important provision that would have otherwise allowed the GOP to run three school board candidates to fill two available Republican positions on the board this year.

That provision was initially written into the Charter following a 2008 revision that, upon voter approval, increased the number of seats on the school board from six to seven. Since the board went from an even to odd number, it dictated an election process that alternated between offering four candidate options every other local election cycle, and three candidates during alternate local election cycles in-between.

Republican Town Committee Chairman and Board of Selectman candidate Jeff Capeci said he was informed late Friday, September 29, that the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s Office discovered the inconsistency during a final ballot review and initially indicated that because of the error, all three Republican school board candidates were facing removal from the November ballot.

 

Finding A Solution

After some frantic conversations with the town attorney, Mr Capeci learned that the GOP could still qualify to have two school board candidates on the ballot, as long as one was willing to withdraw. Ms Zukowski told The Newtown Bee that since she was the final school board candidate qualified and endorsed by the party, that she would officially withdraw her name to ensure the two remaining candidates — incumbent Daniel Cruson, Jr, and newcomer Daniel Delia — would secure seats on the board.

But since her candidacy was officially endorsed and voted on by a significant number of party members during a GOP caucus in late July, Ms Zukowski felt strongly about retaining a candidate slot on the November ballot in order to give all voters, and especially those who played a role in endorsing her at caucus, an opportunity to vote for her on Election Day.

“Since I’ve withdrawn from the Republican line on the ballot, I’m going to run as a write-in so on Election Day people will have a choice about who they want to represent Republicans on the Board of Education, instead of having just two candidates who will automatically be seated — amounting to de facto appointments,” Ms Zukowski said.

Apparently, the 2008 Charter Revision Commission had the facility to understand and apply certain language to the Charter in association with the attempt to expand the number of seats on the school board. That language, which initially permitted up to three candidates from any party to hold ballot positions during local election cycles filling four school board seats, is directed under Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) 9-204, 9-204a, and 9-204b.

That statute in and of itself is confusing Mr Grogins explained, because it contains several sub statutes that are similarly labeled.

“I’m an engineer and I had to read it more than a half-dozen times just to begin understanding it,” Ms Zukowski said.

Section 9-204(a) reads: “Unless otherwise provided by special act or charter provision, including the charter provisions described in subsection (b) of this section, when the number of members to be elected to the board of education for the same term at any election is even, no elector shall vote for more than half that number and when the number of members to be elected to the board of education for the same term at any election is odd, no elector shall vote for more than a bare majority of that number.”

Section 9-204(b) reads: “Any charter which (1) provides for the election of the members of a board of education at one town election for the same term, (2) incorporates section 9-167a by reference to determine minority representation for such board of education and (3) makes no reference to the number of candidates for which an elector may vote for such board of education shall be deemed to have set the number of candidates an elector may vote for and the number of candidates who may be endorsed by any political party at the maximum levels specified in the table contained in subdivision (1) of subsection (a) of section 9-167a.”

Confused yet?

Then consider 9-204a — with no parenthesis — which reads in part: “Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 9-204 and 9-414 and of any special act or town charter, any town may, by charter, or by referendum vote taken at any regular election in such town pursuant to either a vote of its legislative body or a petition signed by at least five percent of the electors of such town as established by the last-preceding registry list of such town, authorize the nomination by any political party of candidates for election as members of the board of education of such town equal to the number of members of said board to be elected at such election, and authorize the electors of such town to vote for the full number of such members to be elected, provided not more than one-half of the members of said board declared elected to the same term at such election shall be of the same political party if the number to be elected is even and not more than a bare majority thereof shall be members of the same political party if the number to be elected is odd.”

And finally, 9-204b — with no parenthesis — which reads in part: “Notwithstanding the provisions of any general statute to the contrary, in any town which provides for four-year terms for members to be elected to the board of education and whose legislative body adopts the provisions of this section by charter or ordinance, and the number of members to be elected is odd or even, any elector may vote for all of that number and the persons receiving the greatest number of votes shall be elected, except that when the number of members of any one political party who would be elected without regard to section 9-167a exceeds the maximum number as determined by said section, then only the candidates of such political party with the highest number of votes up to the limit of such maximum, shall be elected.”

 

Trying To Explain

Circumstances remain unclear as to why one charter commission appropriately included language that would have permitted Ms Zukowski to be a third endorsed candidate on the GOP ballot this November, and a subsequent commission removed it. But the now missing lynch pin that has pushed Ms Zukowski into a write-in position is delineated in the complex language of these state statutes.

The first selectman, interpreting the town attorney, summed it up like this: “My understanding is that the ‘old’ charter had language that would have allowed nominations up to the level of a ‘bare majority to be elected.’ That case would have been three nominees for this particular election, given that four members are to be seated,” Mrs Llodra said.

“That old language (section 230-c) was removed by the Charter Revision Commission,” she continued. “According to [the town attorney’s] explanation to me, the removal of that charter language made us then controlled by statute 9-204a and 9-414. Any reading of the two general statutes is further complicating, as the language itself is dense. In any case, both Dave Grogins and the secretary of the state agree — regarding the Board of Education fall election 2017 — no more than two persons can be nominated or elected from any one political party.”

While Ms Zukowski is forced to join Ms LoBosco in attempting to educate electors about the write-in process, they are also challenged to convince voters on November 7 to take the extraordinary and somewhat historical step of filling in the “bubble’” on the write-in ballot line, and then physically writing in their names as the candidates those voters hope to see elected.

In Connecticut, information about the success rate for write-in candidates is sketchy. But in 2005 after losing a Democratic primary in Waterbury, incumbent Mayor Michael Jarjura was elected to a third term following an aggressive education campaign on write-in balloting, and an Election Day effort that saw dozens of volunteers stationed at all city polling places handing out pencils and brief instruction cards to voters.

View the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s YouTube video on the optical scan ballot, including instruction on write-in voting:

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