In a potential political boost for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, liberal Democrat Jonathan Pelto told The Hartford Courant on Saturday that he fears he will not reach the necessary threshold to qualify for the gubernatorial ballot in November.
Pelto has threatened to go to court to gain a place on the gubernatorial ballot against Malloy, Republican Tom Foley, and petitioning candidate Joseph Visconti, but Pelto said in an interview that a potential court fight on disputed signatures might be fruitless if he is not close enough to the threshold.
“It’s not looking good,” Pelto said Saturday. “I am increasingly concerned the situation is starting to look grim. It is clear that we submitted far fewer petitions than I had expected. … I may be wrong. But for the first time, I think we may fall short.”
Pelto needs 7,500 verified signatures of registered voters, but he said the verification process so far has shown that he and his supporters collected about 900 signatures of citizens who were not registered to vote. He said he was surprised that so many people would sign a petition without being registered voters.
Despite his concerns, Pelto noted that the Secretary of the State – Connecticut’s chief elections official – will continue counting the signatures in the coming days.
“I don’t want to declare that it’s done,” Pelto said. “I don’t want to jump the gun. But I am increasingly pessimistic that we did not collect a sufficient number of signatures. It’s up to the Secretary of the State’s office. I’m not throwing in the towel.”
Av Harris, the chief spokesman for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, was not available for comment Saturday.
Pelto congratulated Visconti, saying that the former West Hartford town council member had made “brilliant” moves by collecting signatures outside a gun shop and also traveling to towns that had a budget referendum to collect signatures from registered voters as they left the polling places. Those voters were guaranteed to be registered because they had just been verified inside the polling place.
“The real problem is we didn’t get enough signatures to have the buffer,” Pelto said. “I had planned about 10 percent [being rejected as] being nonvoters, but I think it was 20 percent. It becomes a moot point if you don’t come close enough.”
Rather than standing outside polling places, Pelto and his supporters collected signatures at farmers’ markets and concerts on the green – where some of the signers were not registered to vote.
If Pelto fails to gain a spot on the ballot, it will be a major political boost for Malloy. Many political insiders believe that Pelto would have pulled Democratic votes away from Malloy, including public school teachers and some state employees. Pelto had been compared to nationally known consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who was blamed by some Democrats for pulling votes away from then-Vice President Al Gore and throwing the 2000 presidential election to Republican George W. Bush. But Nader rejected that reasoning and he recently signed Pelto’s petition when the two saw each other at the Mark Twain House in Hartford.
“I’m sure there will be lots of cheering in the Malloy camp and with union leaders because, conservatively, I think I would have been taking 50,000 to 100,000 votes,” Pelto said. “To some extent, it will hurt Foley with Visconti on the ballot – a couple of percentage points, for sure.”
Pelto, a former state legislator and longtime Democratic political strategist, said he believes that “while my name recognition was only 5 percent, my vote was closer to 10 percent.”
Besides collecting signatures of nonvoters, Pelto said there were about 200 signatures “that were inappropriately or illegally rejected” by town officials across the state. Those included people who failed to provide their date of birth on the form, which is not required by law. Still, some confused local officials rejected signatures without birthdates.
One of those who did not provide her date of birth on the form was Nader’s older sister, Claire, but Pelto said her signature was accepted by local officials.