A lawsuit challenging West Haven’s 2021 mayoral election results did not meet sufficient burden of proof to cast “substantial doubt” on West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi’s razor thin re-election victory, according to Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robin Wilson in a June 24 decision.
West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi won re-election in 2021 by a 32-vote margin, a massive shift in political favor from 2019, as she presided over a city now infamous for fiscal mismanagement and the alleged theft and misuse of over $1 million in federal COVID-relief dollars.
The narrow victory forced a recount but Rossi’s challenger, Barry Lee Cohen, also challenged the results in court, alleging “substantial” errors in rulings by election officials and mistaken vote counts pertaining to 711 absentee ballots cast during the election.
Although Cohen “met his burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that substantial violations of election statutes occurred,” Wilson determined the violations would not have ultimately changed the results of the election.
“Indeed, the evidence presented shows a concerning lack of overall compliance with statutory guidelines by election officials in West Haven,” Wilson wrote. “But their failures do not warrant disenfranchising the hundreds of West Haven absentee ballot voters who did nothing wrong.”
Some of those failures by election officials included failure to execute affidavits when absentee ballots were transferred to the registrar of voters, a lack of designee relationship information on the outer envelopes of six absentee ballots and one instance of an ineligible non-resident voter.
The non-resident voter happened to be the daughter of the absentee ballot moderator, Cathy Conniff. Her daughter was determined to be a resident of Tennessee for several years.
The court also found West Haven election officials failed to provide training to absentee ballot counters, failure to keep the ballots folded to ensure privacy, failure to seal depository envelopes with non-reusable tape and failure to sort rejected ballots into separate depository envelopes.
“The parties did not address any of these violations in their post-trial briefs, but the evidence offered at trial confirmed that each of these violations occurred,” Wilson wrote. The court does not take statutory violations lightly. But disenfranchising 711 voters who did nothing wrong because election officials failed to strictly comply with every statutory subsection that governs elections is a draconian result.”
Ultimately the court determined that seven the absentee ballots should not have been counted and two ballots were unaccounted for. “Even if the court assumed that rejecting all seven of these absentee ballots would favor the plaintiff and that the two missing absentee ballots favored the plaintiff, he still would have lost the mayoral election by 23 votes,” Wilson wrote.
West Haven’s ongoing financial problems, which have moved the city into the highest tier of state oversight, and the ongoing allegations of theft of COVID relief dollars by city employees swung a usually safe election for Rossi into a near loss after winning nearly 60 percent of the vote in 2019.