For Immediate Release
March 21, 2002
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6736
Statement by the Brennan Center’s Elizabeth Daniel Announcing Lawsuit Seeking to Open Connecticut’s Primaries to More Candidates
For almost 50 years, the state of Connecticut has imposed on its citizens one of the most restrictive and byzantine primary ballot access regimes in the country. In primary elections for all statewide offices, all federal offices, and most of the state legislature, this regime shuts down competition and protects incumbents. It places control of the nominating process in the hands of party leaders and regularly denies party rank and file any role in choosing their representative in the general election.
Representing Common Cause in Connecticut, Connecticut Citizen Action Group, two potential candidates Jim Campbell and Pamela Byrnes and individual voters, the Brennan Center for Justice filed suit in federal court today to challenge this system. With this lawsuit, we seek to bring real representative democracy to the state and its primary process. We seek to bring Connecticut in line with the rest of the nation, where ballot access is easily achieved by filing petitions or paying a modest fee. As the law stands now, most voters have no real opportunity to vote for candidates who weren’t anointed by the leadership of the major political parties.
Because this system serves as a kind of incumbent-protection system, most sitting legislators have no incentive to heed the calls for reform that have been made for years. Indeed, in 1993 and just last year, reform of the system passed the House where half of the members qualify for the ballot under a far less restrictive system, but failed in the Senate where 35 of its 36 members are protected by this regime.
This is a situation that calls out for a lawsuit and constitutional intervention. This history has shown that Connecticut’s voters simply cannot rely on their legislators secure their constitutional rights.
Nearly 50 years of electoral history demonstrate that Connecticut’s democratic process has suffered from this regime. Since 1957, no incumbent U.S. Representative, no incumbent U.S. Senator, and only one incumbent governor has faced a primary challenge. A comparison with the rest of the nation makes clear that this record is astonishing. In the 2000 election alone, 34% of the incumbent U.S. senators seeking re-election from across the nation faced a primary challenge; 17% of the incumbent congressmen faced a primary challenge.
In challenging restrictive ballot access rules across the nation, the Brennan Center has represented candidates as diverse as Senator John McCain and presidential candidate Ralph Nader. This lawsuit is a part of that tradition. Our plaintiffs and those who supported the lawsuit with their testimony include Democrats, Republicans, and non-partisan groups seeking to reform the system. The Center applauds plaintiff Jim Campbell for bringing Connecticut’s flawed regime to our attention and for his willingness to publicly challenge this flawed system. We applaud plaintiff Pamela Byrnes for taking a stand to open the democratic process in Connecticut. We also applaud Common Cause and CCAG for joining in this suit as part of their long fight to reform the political process here in Connecticut.