KILLINGWORTH – John Samperi said he’s planning to challenge the results of Tuesday’s primary for the Republican nomination for first selectman, after pencils were used despite the ballots instructing voters not to use them.
Samperi, who runs a heating and air conditioning company and will appear on the November ballot as the Killingworth Conservative Party’s candidate, was challenging Amy Roberts-Perry for the Republican nomination in the race to replace First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski.
The initial count on Tuesday showed Roberts-Perry defeating Samperi by a 141-136 vote, with the five-vote margin triggering an automatic recount held on Friday morning. But Samperi said two of the poll workers his campaign provided on Tuesday noticed that, while voters were being issued pencils, the back of the ballots instructed them not to use pencils.
He said he had already voted by the time the poll workers informed him of the instructions, and wasn’t able to see a ballot after the election because they were locked away. He said he was finally shown the back of a ballot at the recount on Friday.
After he confirmed it instructed against pencils, he and his two witnesses for the recount left the room in protest. Samperi said he isn’t concerned about whether he won but that the process is fair.
“What we’re contesting is not so much the results. We didn’t stay there for the results because I don’t care about the results,” Samperi said. “I just care about the way that the election was run.”
Lauren Blaha, Republican registrar for Killingworth, said after Samperi and his two observers walked out, she gathered three more people who were given summons and sworn in, and continued the recount.
The counters verified there were 277 ballots cast with votes – three more voters cast ballots with no vote. The recount confirmed Tuesday’s results that Amy Roberts-Perry defeated Samperi by a vote of 141-136 and will be the Republican candidate for first selectman.
Blaha confirmed that the back of the ballots say to use a pen or marker, and no pencils. But Blaha and Town Clerk Dawn Mooney both said the language on the back of the ballot comes from the Secretary of the State’s office, not the town.
Mooney said she called Bernie Liu, an attorney in the Secretary of the State’s office, who told her there is no law prohibiting pencils from being used on ballots.
Tara Chozet, spokesperson for the Secretary of the State’s office, confirmed their election staff advised Killingworth officials that there is no specific language in state law that prohibits using pencils to fill out a ballot.
The language on the back of the ballots is guidance, Chozet said, and the state’s ballot readers can read pen, pencils or markers, as long as they don’t use red ink. Any candidate with concerns can bring them to the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Chozet said.
“Nothing we did was illegal,” Blaha said.
Samperi said the obvious reason pencil’s shouldn’t be used is that the marks can be erased. He did not accuse anyone of altering ballots, but said it was clear the election didn’t follow the rules outlined on the back of the ballot, making it an “illegal election.”
He said he plans to contest the election to the Secretary of the State and the State Elections Enforcement Commission, but he doesn’t believe he can make a complaint without a ballot for evidence.
Blaha said Samperi can’t get a ballot because they have been locked away since the primary on Tuesday, awaiting the recount on Friday. After the recount, they were locked up again and must remain that way until Sept. 26, she added.
Samperi, who moved to Killingworth from West Haven, said he has always been at odds with the longtime town Republicans, which led him to forming his own party – the Killingworth Conservative Party.
“I moved up here about 17 years ago and it’s just constant, constant,” Samperi said. “Some people think just because it’s their town and I wasn’t born here, that I don’t have any rights.”