Special-Election Fraud In Connecticut?

                                        Story By John Murray

   Dan Lynch looked at the e-mail with a mix of joy and confusion. It was 2:38 PM on Thursday, January 26th. The message was from the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Office, and it confirmed that Lynch had qualified to have his name placed on the February 28th ballot in a special election to fill the vacant seat in State Senate’s 32nd District.

   The joy came from Lynch’s realization that his intense six-day effort to get 502 signatures on petitions had worked. Lynch had spent 12-14 hours a day working on his campaign; he’d stood in front of diners in the cold; he’d frequented a Dunkin Donuts in Southbury; he’d mingled at sporting events; he’d driven back and forth across the ten-town district visiting friends; and as a strategic move to maximize his time on the last night before deadline, he’d slept in his car.

   “It was more difficult than I thought,” Lynch said, “but I did it.”

    But the elation Lynch felt at the moment was neutralized by his absolute certainty that the Secretary of State’s Office had inaccurately confirmed him on the ballot. 

Dan Lynch

     Lynch, a world-class genealogist, is a stickler for details, and had created a spreadsheet to document the verification process. All 39 of his petitions were being tracked and timed, and Lynch knew that at the moment of his confirmation that 12 of his petitions were still unaccounted for.

   Lynch had submitted 39 petitions by the January 23rd deadline, 32 of which were turned in directly to the Secretary of State’s Office in Hartford. The timeline for a special election is tight, and the Secretary of State’s Office had to get the petitions into the hands of the town clerks back in the district, and have the signatures verified within 48 hours. Faced with a looming deadline, the Secretary of State’s Office sent 24 of the petitions in the regular U.S. mail – many with no postage.

    When the petitions didn’t arrive in the district by January 25th, Lynch thought his candidacy had been torpedoed. Lynch, 54, is an intense man, and after his extreme effort to collect the signatures, he was not going away quietly. On the morning of January 26th, Lynch sent an impassioned e-mail to Secretary of State Denise Merrill asking for her “immediate involvement in this matter to determine the most appropriate and speedy resolution” to dealing with the missing petitions.

Secretary of State Denise Merrill

   At the conclusion of his e-mail Lynch wrote that he had consulted with legal counsel and would seek a court injunction to determine if the missing petitions were the result of a “clerical error, or possible misconduct by someone interfering with the open election process involving a petitioning candidate.”

   Lynch ended his message with, “time is of the essence.” Merrill did not respond to his e-mail.

   At the suggestion of a friend, Lynch called former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, now a partner at the law firm Pastore & Dailey LLC in Glastonbury.

     “Susan Bysiewicz got right back to me and asked if I had copies of the petitions and receipts,” Lynch said. “She told me I had everything I needed to file an injunction.”

Former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz

   When contacted by The Waterbury Observer, Bysiewicz confirmed she had spoken with Lynch, but declined to speak on the record about his petitioning process. “I’m no longer the Secretary of State,” Bysiewicz said, “and although we spoke, Dan Lynch did not retain me to represent him in this matter.”

   Lynch said he could not afford her retainer fee, but “Susan was very responsive and called the Secretary of State’s Office on my behalf.”

   A reporter at the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury, Laraine Weschler, spoke to Lynch, and called the Secretary of State’s Office to inquire about the missing petitions. Weschler wrote an article about the “snafu” that appeared in the newspaper the following morning.

   Lynch was fighting back. He had threatened a federal lawsuit, had brought the former Secretary of State into the mix, and had prompted a journalist to ask about the missing petitions. The heat was cranking up on the Secretary of State’s Office when an employee sent Lynch the e-mail informing him that he had qualified for the ballot.

   “With those petitions missing it was mathematically impossible for me to have reached 503 signatures,” Lynch said. “Although it benefited me, the Secretary of State’s Office committed fraud.”

   Several sources who spoke to the Observer off the record, expressed disbelief that Lynch was making an issue of the outcome. He’s on the ballot, they said, it all turned out okay, right? What’s the big deal?

   “Doesn’t anyone care about the integrity of the process?” Lynch said. “The end does not justify the means.”

   Anyone questioning his motives probably is unaware of the nightmare Lynch has endured over the past ten years.

   Lynch has tangled with what he believed to be judicial corruption in Connecticut Family Court that left him bankrupt, and for a period of time, homeless. During his divorce proceeding Lynch accused his ex-wife’s lawyer of manufacturing evidence and lying. The lawyer, Stanley Goldstein, was on probation and faced several other grievances against him, but when Lynch challenged the proceedings, a judge ordered Lynch incarcerated for contempt. When Lynch sought relief from the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee he hit a brick wall. In effect, Lynch said, the judge and fellow lawyers on the grievance committee had circled the wagons to protect one of their own. (With several grievances pending against him, Goldstein later resigned from the Connecticut Bar Association.)

   “The more I pressed, the more they retaliated against me,” Lynch told the Trumbull Times last May. Lynch attempted to sue the State of Connecticut in 2015 and was denied by Connecticut Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr., who held the unique power to decide who could sue the state.

Lynch testifying at a public hearing in Hartford two years ago.

   In an extraordinary move, the Connecticut General Assembly reversed Vance’s decision in May 2016, opening the door for Lynch to pursue restitution for judicial wrongdoing. The Senate voted 36-0 to reverse Vance’s ruling. State Representative William Tong of Stamford, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told the Trumbull Times that Lynch’s testimony was compelling, and “we think his claims and his story deserve further examination, and we think there’s an important public purpose in doing so.”

   The petition controversy with the Secretary of State’s Office was not Dan Lynch’s first rodeo.

   “I’ve challenged fraud and corruption at the local, state and federal level and for me to remain silent about what the Secretary of State’s Office did would make me no better than those I sought to remove from their roles as so-called public servants,” Lynch said.

   The Observer contacted the Secretary of State’s Office for comment and ended up in a three-day exchange with Patrick Gallahue, the office’s personable communication director. Gallahue was open, cooperative, and provided the Observer with dozens of documents about Lynch’s petition process. Nonetheless, the documents confirmed Lynch’s allegation that the Secretary of State’s Office did not have valid paperwork to verify his candidacy at the moment it did so. The Observer scoured the petitions, and no matter how pleasantly Patrick Gallahue tried to present the case, the numbers are the numbers.

   The Observer went petition-by-petition, and cross-referenced against Lynch’s detailed spreadsheet to conclude that the Secretary of State’s Office appeared to commit fraud by confirming Lynch on the special-election ballot on January 26th.

Copies of Lynch's spreadsheet and petitions at the Observer office.

   Gallahue cautioned the newspaper against using the word “fraud” because it had a criminal connotation, but the Observer has no ability to legally charge or prosecute anyone with a crime. The Waterbury Observer uses the word fraud as it’s defined in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “an act of deceiving or misrepresenting.”

   Throughout the three-day exchange, Gallahue provided a variety of explanations about the incident. First he suggested the postage had fallen off the envelopes, then he stated that the Secretary of State’s employees place all of their mail in a basket to be collected and do not adhere postage themselves.

   He offered up several explanations about the missing postage, but never answered the question why the Secretary of State’s Office had used the regular mail to deliver time sensitive election materials.

   Trying to get the Secretary of State’s Office to provide data to justify Lynch’s confirmation on the ballot January 26th was fruitless. First, Gallahue attempted to brush off Lynch’s allegation by counting all the verified signatures himself through January 27th. “What’s the issue?” he wrote.“Mr. Lynch was way over the number of 502 signatures.”

    The issue was that the Secretary of State’s Office had confirmed Lynch on January 26, a full day earlier than the date Gallahue was using to tally signatures, and on January 26 Lynch was still 24 signatures short.

Patrick Gallahue, spokeman for the Secretary of State's Office.

   Three days into his investigation, Gallahue forwarded an e-mail containing a petition from the Oxford town clerk that was sent to the Secretary of State’s Office on January 26.  Gallahue said this e-mail proved Lynch was over the 502-signature threshold when he had been verified. But the petition was a scan of a copy of an original petition that Lynch himself had sent to Oxford when he was frantically trying to get on the ballot. Lynch had hoped the town clerks could use his copies to confirm him in the absence of the missing petitions. Other town clerks had refused to work with copies of missing petitions provided by the candidate, and only Oxford used Lynch’s copies to verify signatures, and report data back to the Secretary of State’s Office.

    Even if a scanned copy was legal, the Oxford petition only added 19 verified signatures to the list, leaving Lynch five signatures short of qualifying.

   After a myriad of e-mails and phone calls that felt like a tennis match between The Waterbury Observer and the Secretary of State’s Office, Patrick Gallahue issued the following statement in writing.

    “For now all I can say is that the Secretary of the State’s office received the proper number of signatures on January 26th for Mr. Lynch to qualify for the ballot. I believe this explains his questions. Now, again, he is welcome to study any of the pages on his own. Finally, if he feels he was the beneficiary of anything untoward, he is welcome to submit a complaint to the State Elections Enforcement Commission.”

The Process
   This is a story of politics and power, of mistakes (honest or not), and an illustration of why so few independent candidates qualify to get on the ballot in Connecticut. To understand what’s at stake on February 28th, consider that the outcome may swing the balance of power in the Connecticut Senate, which at the moment is deadlocked 17-17, with two vacancies.

    After the statewide election in November the Senate was deadlocked 18-18, but six minutes before being sworn into office on January 4th, Republican Senator Rob Kane of the 32nd District, and Democrat Senator Eugene Coleman of the 2nd District, resigned in a carefully choreographed move that allowed the two men to seek new jobs while retaining the balance of power in the senate.

    Kane is now Republican state auditor (making $150,000 a year), while Coleman is seeking to become a state judge. Both men come from partisan districts and political insiders expect a Republican replacement to emerge from the 32nd District, and a Democrat replacement in the 2nd District, which would preserve the power-sharing split in the senate.

   In the heavily Democratic 2nd District, State Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford will square off on February 28th against Republican Michael McDonald to replace Coleman.

   In the 32nd District, Republican State Representative Eric Berthel of Watertown is squaring off against Democrat opponent Greg Cava (who lost to Kane in November), and unaffiliated petitioning candidate Dan Lynch. If all goes to the power-sharing plan orchestrated behind closed doors up in Hartford, Berthel would defeat Cava, and McCrory would defeat McDonald, and the Senate is back to an 18-18 split.

   After the November election the Republican and Democrat leadership in the State Senate reached a deal to share power equally when deciding which bills will be raised for a vote. The deal would be upended if one of the favorites lost in a special election, and the entire General Assembly would be thrown for a loop if Dan Lynch pulled out an improbable victory on Tuesday.

   Predicting the results of a special election in February, however, is dicey. What’s the weather going to be like that day? Which party can more effectively motivate their base to vote? Will the political machines fire on all cylinders? Underdogs Cava and McCrory have to believe they have a puncher’s shot in a special election, and both men represent their party’s best chance at swinging the balance of power in the Connecticut Senate.

   Dan Lynch is a wild card, and the Republican and Democrat duopoly that controls state government doesn’t like wild cards, interlopers, and third-party candidates. Ask Larry De Pillo of Waterbury, who has waged a 15-year fight to get the Independent Party (started in Waterbury) on the statewide ballot.

   “When we first formed the Independent Party the state treated us as a joke,” De Pillo said. “We were told that we had to get someone elected before we could become a statewide party.”

   When the Independent Party got 11 people elected, Michael Telesca and Larry De Pillo went up to the state and were told they couldn’t file because there already was an Independent Party. De Pillo said a small group had applied to be the Unaffiliated Party, and the state had assigned them the name of Independent Party, pre-empting De Pillo’s attempt to take a strong grassroots movement statewide.

   “We are currently in a legal dispute about the Independent Party name,” De Pillo said. “The state makes it almost impossible for independents to run because the system is designed to prevent challenges to Democrats and Republicans.”

   De Pillo said the timeline for an independent to get petitions to qualify for the ballot is ridiculous, and intentional. “The system is rigged,” De Pillo said, “and I’m not surprised to hear about Mr. Lynch’s struggle to get on the ballot.”

   To understand the gauntlet facing anyone attempting to petition onto the ballot, let’s examine Lynch’s experience.

   Lynch was born and raised in Waterbury. He attended Holy Cross High School, was elected class president in his junior and senior year, was a cross-country runner, hurdler, and competed in the decathlon. Lynch is still physically active today, and his stamina helped get him through the petitioning process. Lynch is a runner, cyclist and in recent years, a competitive Master’s rower with the Litchfield Hills Rowing Club.

   Lynch’s parents, Bernie and Louise, still live in the family home in the Town Plot neighborhood in Waterbury. Louise worked for years at Mattatuck Community College and Bernie at the U.S. Postal Service.

   “My father delivered the mail his entire life,” Dan Lynch said, “and when the Secretary of State’s Office tried to blame the post office for this mess, I took it personally.”

   After Lynch graduated from Bryant College, he spent years working in the technology-marketing field in Boston, before launching a genealogy business. Lynch wrote the book “Google Your Family Tree” and has trained genealogists from around the world in advanced Internet search techniques.

   Lynch’s passion for detail has served him well this past month as he clawed his way onto the ballot by squaring off against employees in the Secretary of State’s Office – whose actions, intentional or not, nearly harpooned his candidacy.

   To get on the ballot Lynch needed to get 502 registered voters in the 32nd District to sign a petition. The voters had to be verified by the town clerks in the 10 towns in the district (Watertown, Middlebury, Woodbury, Oxford, Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Roxbury, Seymour, Southbury and Washington). But before Lynch could begin collecting signatures he needed to register with the Secretary of State’s Office and obtain one official petition that stated the date of the special election. In early January, right after Rob Kane resigned his seat, Lynch decided to run. With no date set for the election, however, Lynch had to wait for the official announcement from Governor Dan Malloy before he could register at the Secretary of State’s Office, and obtain an official petition to begin collecting signatures.

    The timeline to hold a special election is set out by state statues. Kane and Coleman both resigned on January 4th, and Malloy had ten days in which to set a date for a special election. Malloy issued a “writ of special election” on January 13th, and set the election date for February 28th. The writ was issued late on a Friday afternoon before a long holiday weekend.

   “I had ten days to get 502 signatures,” Lynch said, “but because the Governor issued the writ late on Friday I couldn’t physically get the petition until Tuesday morning, and I lost the entire holiday weekend.”

   Ten days is not a long time to get 502 signatures, and Lynch believes the timing of Malloy’s announcement was strategic. “Before I even started I had lost 30% of the time to get the signatures,” Lynch said. “That made the hurdle a lot higher to get over.”

   Undaunted, Lynch began his hunt for 502 signatures on Tuesday, January 17th, by dropping in on friends in the district, a move that netted 25 signatures. The following day he went to supermarkets in Southbury and was kicked out of Stop and Shop and ShopRite, because both stores have policies against political solicitation.

   “It was a cold miserable day and I started going door to door in Southbury and no one was home,” Lynch said. “Everyone had a dog or two, though. It was a horrendous experience.”

   The day before the deadline of January 23rd, Lynch was still hundreds of signatures short. “I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Lynch said, “and then I had a fantastic experience at Adams IGA in Watertown, and I was within striking distance.”

    Lynch worked late into the night on a spreadsheet analyzing where he stood. He estimated he needed at least 100 extra signatures as a buffer, and he was determined to keep collecting them right up to the deadline on Monday afternoon, January 23rd at 4 pm.

   There are ten towns in the 32nd District and Lynch had to have separate petitions for each town. When he was in Southbury he had voters sign a Southbury petition, When he was in Watertown he had a Watertown petition. At the end of the collection process the petitions could be submitted to the individual town clerks in each town, or to the Secretary of State’s Office in Hartford (which would take possession and responsibility of the petitions and deliver them to the town clerks back in the district).

   Faced with a grueling timeline to collect the signatures, Lynch used a hybrid method of turning in the petitions.

   “I personally handed in petitions to several town clerks,” Lynch said, “but I asked a friend to deliver 32 petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office on the deadline day so I didn’t waste a time driving all across the district. I wanted to focus on collecting signatures up to the last minute.”

   Attorney Rachel Baird was the friend Lynch asked to deliver the 32 petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday, January 23rd. The petitions needed to be notarized, and when Rachel Baird arrived at her office in Harwinton that Monday morning, Lynch was waiting. Lynch had asked another friend, Peter Nicita, to provide a second signature to the petitions (as the circulator) and within minutes the 32 petitions and Baird were off to Hartford.

   When Baird walked into the Secretary of State’s Office she was the only customer and she asked to speak to Pearl Williams, who Lynch had previously spoken with. Baird said she handed Williams 32 petitions, a cover letter from Lynch, and copies of the petitions Lynch had previously hand-delivered to the towns.

   “Pearl Williams seemed irritated that I had asked for her,” Baird said. “She ignored the cover letter, pushed Dan’s copies to the side and said she didn’t need those. She was rude through our entire transaction.”

   As Williams went through the 32 petitions she found eight that had not been signed by the notary – which was Attorney Baird herself – and refused to accept them. In the early-morning rush to get the petitions notarized in her law office Baird had overlooked signing eight petitions. Undaunted, Baird asked for a receipt for the 24 petitions that Williams accepted, then drove to Stratford and signed the petitions in front of Peter Nicita. She then drove back to Hartford to hand in the final 8 petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office one hour before the deadline.

   “There was a different lady this time,” Baird said, “and she was much nicer. I got another receipt, and left.”

   Back in the district Lynch continued to get signatures right up until the deadline and handed in four more petitions at Southbury Town Hall.

   “I had collected 628 signatures and I was exhausted, but relieved,” Lynch said. “That night I slept really well.”

   The town clerks then had 48 hours to verify the signatures on Lynch’s petitions and report back to the Secretary of State’s Office. On Wednesday, January 25th (the deadline date for the town clerk’s to verify the petitions), Lynch called Southbury Town Hall to see how the verification process was going.

   “The Southbury Town Clerk, Lynn Dwyer, told me she had received one petition (by Fed-Ex delivery) and that I had done really well in only losing a few signatures from the list,” Lynch said. “I then asked her about the other five petitions Rachel had delivered to Hartford, and she didn’t have them.”

   Lynch had a receipt from the Secretary of State’s Office confirming that Baird had delivered six petitions from Southbury, and he had copies of every petition to prove it.

   “At that moment I knew there was a major problem,” Lynch said, “so I called the Secretary of State’s Office and told Pearl Williams that five petitions were missing. I was almost out of time, and without those petitions, I wasn’t going to make it on the ballot.”

   Lynch said Willams assured him that she had sent all six to Southbury, and suggested that the problem was in Southbury, or with the postal service.

   “I had been told by political insiders not to trust anyone in the process,” Lynch said. “I was told that paperwork had a way of disappearing. I was careful to make copies of everything.”

   The following day, January 26th, Lynch raised hell with e-mails, calls, engaged Susan Byciewicz - and that was when the Secretary of State’s Office sent this e-mail:

Mr. Lynch:

   Please be advised that your signature count as of this time is 503.  Your name will be placed on the ballot for the 32nd Senatorial District in the ten towns within that district.   A formal letter will be issued to you and the town clerks involved this afternoon.

Pearl Williams
Elections Officer
LEAD

   Over the next several days details began to emerge as to what may have happened. Rachel Baird dropped off 24 petitions with Pearl Williams on the morning of January 23rd, and despite a 48-hour deadline, Williams sent the petitions in the regular U.S. mail. Who was responsible for the postage is unclear, but the first batch had postage problems. Some of the petitions arrived eight days after they were delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office, and one arrived in Oxford on February 13th, eighteen days after Lynch was confirmed on the ballot.

   Waterbury Town Clerk Antoinette “Chick” Spinelli oversaw a special election in Waterbury in April 2016. “The window for special elections is really tight,” she said. 

     Spinelli said it makes sense to have the candidates file their petitions directly with local clerks because with the tight deadlines to verify signatures, “you can’t leave it to the mail.”

   Elizabeth Conrad, the Deputy Town Clerk in Seymour, said a petition arrived in Seymour Town Hall on January 31st with no postage and no postmark. The petition arrived five days after the deadline for Dan Lynch to get on the ballot.

   “I’ve never seen that before,” Conrad said. “I don’t know the motive, if there was one, but I sent the petition by certified mail back to the Secretary of State’s Office.”

   The first batch of Lynch’s petitions into the Secretary of State’s Office were handled by Pearl Williams and the US mail. The eight petitions that Rachel Baird delivered later in the afternoon of January 23rd were received by someone other than Pearl Williams, were all sent by Fed-Ex, and all arrived in time for the town clerks to verify the signatures.

   Was the mailing screw-up intentional to keep Lynch off the ballot in an epic special election, or a simple mistake? That is debatable.

   Pearl Williams was not interviewed for this story as Patrick Gallahue acts as spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office. Gallahue requested that The Waterbury Observer not identify any staff at the Secretary of State’s Office beside himself, as he speaks for the office. It was a friendly request, and he acknowledged the Observer could do what it wanted, but that he would appreciate it if the newspaper didn’t use anyone’s name.

   The message from Gallahue was understandable. He is a partisan spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, and he was in defense mode. But questions persist.

    Where is the concern from the Secretary of State’s Office about the use of the postal service to deliver time-sensitive documents?

    Where is the concern from the Secretary of State’s Office about a candidate being improperly verified for a special election?

   Was this all intentional? Was it a series of mistakes and miscalculations? Where is the accountability inside the Secretary of State’s Office to address these issues?

   Clearly there should be a larger window of opportunity for petitioning candidates to collect signatures, and more time for town clerks to verify signatures.

   In time-sensitive situations the Secretary of State’s Office should scan and e-mail important documents. Using the regular post office is absurd.

   The Secretary of State’s Office should launch an investigation into how its employee reached the 503-signature count, and when they learn that Lynch was five signatures short at the moment he was confirmed, what will be the consequence?

   Ironically, the week that Lynch was battling to get his name on the ballot, Denise Merrill issued a press release from the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Office on January 24th in response to President Donald Trump’s proclamations about widespread voter fraud in the November election.

    Merrill’s statement opened with: "Our democracy is the most transparent in the world. Our voter rolls are public information and elections officials are honorable public servants who carry out their tasks in an open and accessible manner."

    The perverse irony of her release was in its timing; it arrived just as Dan Lynch’s name was improperly validated to be a candidate for the Connecticut Senate.