State criticizes McMahon campaign

The State Election Enforcement Commission has issued a warning to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon about her “deceitful tactics” in disseminating absentee ballot applications in the final days before Election Day.

In an Oct. 25 letter to McMahon’s campaign committee, the Commission, which is tasked with ensuring the integrity of the state’s electoral process, said it has received dozens of complaints from members of the public and town clerks’ offices regarding McMahon’s dissemination of unsolicited absentee ballot applications. The material sent to electors by McMahon’s campaign included a letter soliciting voters to cast their ballots for the Republican candidate alongside an absentee ballot application. The SEEC executive director and general counsel Michael Brandi said in his letter to McMahon campaign manager Corry Bliss that McMahon’s campaign committee allegedly used envelopes that were “disguised” as official or government communications in campaign mailings.

The mailings were enclosed in envelopes with stamps stating “DO NOT TEMPER OFFICIAL DOCUMENT” and “STATE OF CONNECTICUT ABSENTEE BALLOT APPLICATION ENCLOSED.”

Neither the McMahon nor the Chris Murphy Democratic Senate campaigns responded to repeated requests for comment.

“With respect to absentee ballots, the McMahon campaign has complied with every law and regulation on the books, has sought and received guidance from the secretary of state every step of the way, and has discussed the SEEC’s letter with them and been assured that we have done nothing improper,” McMahon spokesman Todd Abrajano told the New Haven Register. “The only people who are raising this issue are Democrat clerks who are complaining about having to deal with the increased volume because this is the first statewide absentee ballot program they have seen in a long time from a candidate outside of their own party.”

In the letter from the SEEC, Brandi advised Bliss of the rules for disseminating unsolicited absentee ballot applications and warned him of the laws that prohibit influencing the electorate by corrupt means as well as misrepresenting the eligibility for voting by absentee ballots.

Brandi said the official-looking stamps caused confusion about the nature of the forms, especially among elderly electors. He explained that Connecticut residents often mistook the mailing to be an official mailing from state offices rather than campaign materials.

Mary Zorzanello, a New Haven resident and nurse practitioner at the Yale School of Medicine, was one of the voters that filed a formal complaint to the SEEC after her 95-year-old father received the material from McMahon’s campaign regarding his absentee ballot application. Zorzanello called McMahon’s letter “deceitful,” as the stamps on the envelope seemed to indicate official government information.

“When we opened the letter, my father was disgusted,” Zorzanello said. “He would never vote for Linda McMahon.”

After Zorzanello and others raised their concerns to the SEEC, the Commission held a meeting on Oct. 24 and agreed to issue the warning, according to a cover letter sent to Zorzanello by SEEC staff attorney William Smith.

In his letter to Bliss, Brandi also wrote another complaint against the McMahon campaign.

“There have been concerns about the committee’s phone banking, where the voters were given a return telephone number of their town clerk’s office, leaving their staffs inundated with calls,” he said.

The Commission has decided not to take further action regarding such complaints, citing jurisdictional reasons. SEEC staff attorney Joshua Foley explained that the SEEC only supervises state election laws, while McMahon’s campaign is a federal one. In addition, he said, while McMahon’s campaign’s practices might be “distasteful,” they don’t necessarily present potential violations. Nonetheless, both Brandi and Fouley said the Commission views these complaints “with grave concern” and would continue to monitor McMahon’s campaign committee’s activities.

In Connecticut, voting by absentee ballot is limited to those who are unable to vote on Tuesday because of illness, physically disability, religious practices, service in the armed forces or geographic absence from Connecticut.

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