NEW HAVEN – Former New Haven mayoral candidate Shafiq Abdussabur is calling for an overhaul of the system that monitors petition signatures, after a judge ruled last week that he didn’t obtain enough to run on the Democratic primary ballot.
Abdussabur, a retired city police sergeant, had filed a lawsuit in state court over ineligible petition signatures. On Aug. 31, a judge ruled against Abdussabur’s assertion that he met the threshold of submitting the names of at least 1,623 registered New Haven Democratic voters.
Now, Abdussabur said he’s frustrated with the system, and that verbal assertions made by Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans did not meet state statutes.
Six candidates, including Democratic Mayor Justin Elicker, were vying for mayor. Tom Goldenberg also did not obtain enough needed signatures to be on the Sept. 12 primary ballot, according to the Democratic Registrar of Voters’ office.
“The focus now needs to be on the registrar’s office,” Abdussabur told CT Examiner on Thursday, urging an overhaul of the system that monitors petition signatures.
“I am calling for a public task force on voter registration,” said Abdussabur, who claims there was voter suppression.
He pointed to residents of elderly facilities and nursing homes whose signatures, he said, might have been harder to read. Abdussabur also noted his signature was rejected because his legal name has a hyphen, something he doesn’t use on most occasions.
Abdussabur said he collected signatures throughout the city and in areas highly populated by the Black, Latino and immigrant sectors, “as well as within some areas where people were unhoused.” He explained that unhoused individuals put the address of their shelter on the petition.
“I think voter suppression is an issue,” he said. “I think voter suppression is happening in middleclass communities of all colors and races and in lower-class communities of all colors and races. There needs to be more education [by political leaders] of the voting process.”
Abdussabur, 56, maintained in his lawsuit that Evans verbally told him she rejected signatures that were illegible, or where the printed name is legible but the person signed their name differently or wrote the wrong birth date.
But Abdussabur and his legal team – led by New Haven attorney Patricia Kane – said nowhere in the state statutes are there provisions for rejecting a person’s signature for the reasons allegedly outlined by Evans.
Evans didn’t respond to requests for comment from CT Examiner.
Abdussabur also claimed Evans verbally told him names were disqualified because they were inactive, meaning they had not voted in at least four years.
But Tara Chozet, a spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary of the State, told CT Examiner that an inactive voter that signs a petition will automatically be moved to the active voter list, provided the address on the petition for that voter is the same as the last official address the registrar had for them.
Abdussabur said his campaign filed 2,700 signatures by the Aug. 9 deadline, but 1,394 of them – or nearly 52 percent – were rejected. In total, 1,406 signatures were approved, but that was 217 short of the required amount to qualify for the primary.
Abdussabur called the amount of signatures that were turned down “unprecedented,” saying typically, there is a 20 to 30 percent rejection rate.
Abdussabur said he didn’t think there was a deliberate political attempt to keep him off the ballot, rather there “is not a written defined procedure with oversight in place.”
He said his campaign did an internal audit of the signatures they compiled and is “absolutely confident” they garnered enough signatures to make it on the primary ballot.
After reviewing the internal audit, Kane told CT Examiner she’s “totally convinced” the campaign acquired the needed signatures to be on the ballot.
“The registrar of voters failed to follow the simple rules for counting signatures, and that their rejection rate [for the Abdussabur campaign] is over 50 percent should raise immediate questions,” Kane said.
Abdussabur also claimed the registrar’s office should have submitted to his campaign a summary of which signatures were not eligible, though it is not required to.
“We got no letter or worksheet or assessment sheet from the registrar’s office,” he said. “There was nothing that tells you what names were rejected and what sheets were rejected.”
Abdussabur told CT Examiner he decided, as of Thursday afternoon, not to run as an unaffiliated candidate on the November ballot. He said he’s been a Democrat since he was 8 years old and that running in that capacity “would change the entire direction of how you maintain momentum and how you raise money.”