State: law blocks Republican presidential caucus

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, a Democrat, seen in this November 2014 file photo.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, a Democrat, seen in this November 2014 file photo.

The Connecticut GOP’s Iowa caucus experiment for 2016 may be a pipe dream.

A spokesman for the state’s top election official said Thursday that Republicans can’t unilaterally change from a presidential primary to a caucus, as some in the state’s minority party have been pushing to gain relevance nationally.

“So talking to our attorneys, the state law would have to be changed because the law does prescribe a primary for the presidential preference for the parties,” said Av Harris, an aide to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. “The way it’s written in Connecticut, it says the party shall hold a primary. It doesn’t give the party the option.”

Merrill is a Democrat, just like every other statewide office holder in Connecticut, which moved by its presidential primaries from Super Tuesday in early February to the last Tuesday in April between the 2008 and 2012 elections.

By the time Republicans got around to casting ballots in 2012, Mitt Romney effectively had the nomination in the bag.

For next year, the state GOP wants to primary moved up, but there is little appetite in the Democratic-controlled Legislature for a variety of reasons that include the guarantee of additional delegates to the national convention for sticking with a later date and being part of a regional primary with New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

So a task force of GOP leaders is seeking legal opinions on whether Republicans can bypass the General Assembly and adopt a caucus model like that used in about a dozen other states, including Iowa.

The secretary of the state’s office said a section of the law that covers caucuses — cited by Fairfield’s Democratic Registrar of Voters Matthew Waggner as potentially giving Republicans control of their own affairs — does not mean that parties can abandon the primary. The language reads: “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prohibit the holding of caucuses for the selection of delegates prior to the day of the primary.”

The interpretation of state election officials differed dramatically on the language covering caucuses.

“So that caucus doesn’t replace a primary,” Harris said. “That caucus is just to choose who the delegates are going to be for the Republicans or the Democrats.”


Neil Vigdor