Less than a week before voters are set to head to the polls, the State Elections Enforcement Commission has decided to proceed with a formal investigation into allegations that Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson’s ’12 re-election campaign violated election law.
The commissioners of the SEEC who met in Hartford last Tuesday found that the complaint, filed by Rafi Bildner ’16 on Sept. 25 , has sufficient merit to warrant a full investigation. Bildner’s complaint alleged that several members of Eidelson’s campaign team had violated election law during the Democratic primary on Sept. 16 by canvassing within 75 feet of the polling place in the basement of the New Haven Free Public Library. State law stipulates that campaign staff may only solicit voters 75 feet or more away from the polls. SEEC Paralegal Specialist Evelyn Gratacos said the contents of the investigation are confidential. Although she did not specify when the SEEC will release its verdict, in the past, investigations into similar complaints have lasted for months.
The complaint came in the wake of Fish Stark’s ’17 heavy defeat to Eidelson in the Democratic primary. Though Bildner was a member of Stark’s campaign, he said in September that he filed the complaint independently of the campaign.
Eidelson said she has not yet received notification from the commission about the investigation and declined to comment on the complaint without having seen its details.
Bildner states in the complaint that he saw “several different individuals” affiliated with Eidelson’s campaign interact with voters atop a ramp leading to the polling place — the ramp was within the 75-foot line. A video obtained by the News in September showed Eidelson’s volunteers talking to voters on the ramp.
Bildner said the complaint is not a personal attack against Eidelson, but is rather intended to set a precedent for “free and fair elections” for all parties in the city.
“Campaigning and politics have been a big part of my life and I’ve seen the value of having a blank canvas, an equal slate for candidates on both sides,” he said. “Having systems in place that allow candidates to have an equal shot is so important for a democracy, especially in local elections, where so few people vote.”
Bildner added that he knows few details of the investigation, but he expects the commission to take the complaint seriously and talk to all parties involved.
Stark, who emphasized that Bildner’s complaint was not associated with his campaign, said the commission’s decision to launch a formal investigation is a move in the right direction.
“It seems to me like the complaint process is playing out like it’s supposed to,” Stark said. “We have election laws for a reason. When someone is suspected of violating those laws, there should be an investigation, and those laws should be enforced.”
If the SEEC finds that the complaint has merit, it would likely result in Eidelson being fined, not a rerun of the election, Nathaniel Persily ’92, an election law professor at Stanford Law School, told the News in September.
Tyler Blackmon ’16, president of the Yale College Democrats and a staff columnist for the News, said he does not expect the investigation to impact the final week of campaigning.
“We’ll let the SEEC go through the formal process and focus on talking to voters over the next week,” he said.