February 4, 2002
BACKGROUND ON DIFFERENCES IN CONNECTICUT PRIMARY LAWS
By: Mary M. Janicki, Assistant Director
You asked for background information on the 1955 legislation creating different provisions for primaries for candidates for (1) municipal and (2) state or district offices.
Public Act 51, enacted in 1955, established the basis of what is now the state's law on nominating procedures, including the different qualifying methods for holding primaries for municipal and state or district office candidates. However, the legislative history of the act provides little insight into the rationale for creating the different procedure for filing a candidacy for municipal office by petition. The law that passed was a compromise, based on two separate bills, one dealing with “local” candidates and the other for statewide and district offices.
Candidates for a municipal office (one for which only the electors of a single town may vote) can circulate a petition to require a primary for determining a party's nominee. Candidates for state or district office must receive at least 15% of the delegate vote at a convention in order to qualify to run in a so-called “challenge” primary. The dual procedures were included in the legislation that passed after (1) a Legislative Council study conducted prior to the 1955 session, (2) the failure of a compromise bill during the regular session, and (3) final enactment of a compromise during a special session. At the time, Connecticut was the only one of the then-48 states that did not allow direct primaries on a statewide basis. Some towns in the state permitted primaries and the thrust of the effort seemed to be to establish them for all offices. None of the public hearing testimony or debate in the House or Senate on any of the 1955 primary bills considered in the regular and special sessions refers to the bifurcated nomination system for the two types of offices or to an explanation of the difference or arguments for consistency between the two.
Though the regular session bills never became law, a review of their legislative histories provides insight into the nominating procedures in place at the time and the rationale for the changes eventually enacted during the June Special Session.
CHALLENGE PRIMARY LAW
An OLR Background Paper on “Connecticut's Challenge Primary Law” (October 1978) describes the origin of the current primary law.
Connecticut's primary law was passed in 1955. It was the brainchild of State Senator and Professor of Government Duane Lockhard. Connecticut was the last state to adopt legally regulated primaries. The system adopted here closely resembles the National Municipal League's Model Primary Election System. The challenge primary idea was first expressed by Charles Evans Hughes who proposed it in a turn of the century speech.
The law creating the challenge primary system for state and district office candidates passed during a special session of the General Assembly in 1955 after the proposal died during the regular session. Because the legislature had failed to adopt a budget by the mandatory adjournment date, Governor Abraham Ribicoff called a special session to approve the budget and the proposal for a state primary law came up. According to a column in The Hartford Courant, “A combination of Democratic and Republican liberals was formed to approve the bill, which was signed into law by Mr. Ribicoff” (August 24, 1970).
1955 REGULAR SESSION
Five regular session bills were important in the General Assembly's consideration of primary elections. The Elections Committee held a public hearing on three bills that separately covered (1) statewide offices and U.S. senator and representative in Congress (SB 65); (2) local officials in towns with a population over 25,000 (mandatory) and under 25,000 (optional) (SB 82); and (3) local officials in towns regardless of size, town committee members, and convention delegates (SB 83).
The committee reported a fourth compromise bill to the floor (HB 2098). The House adopted an amendment and passed that bill on June 1. On June 6, the Senate passed its own amendment to the bill and sent it to a conference committee. On June 8, both the House and Senate passed a fifth bill (HB 2148) but with different amendments.
The debate on the bills was extremely contentious, including protestations that one of the bills (HB 2098) had been lost – literally. House leadership authorized the consideration of a new bill (HB 2148) that both chambers passed, again with different amendments, on the last day of the session. But the Senate's action came just before midnight. It suspended the rules and sent the bill as a disagreeing action back to the House where it died when the legislature adjourned sine die.
The floor debate focused on the arguments for and against a primary for state and district office candidates. Some members referred to town primaries that at the time were authorized by charter or special act. But the focus of the debate was on whether and how to extend the concept to other offices and still maintain the role of political parties in the nominating process. Proponents of the bill wanted to keep it “simple.” It seems that the compromise consisted of combining the procedures in a single bill but creating a process for state and district office nominations that included the party endorsement.
1955 JUNE SPECIAL SESSION
“An Act Concerning Nominating Procedures” (PA No. 51, HB 62) became the basis of the state's current law on nominations and political parties. The difference between filing candidacies for state or district office and for municipal office originates in that legislation. On June 23, both the House and the Senate took action and passed a primary bill that:
● Applied to all towns
● Covered state, congressional, state legislative, and municipal offices and town committee members
● Included a pre-primary convention
● Required petition signatures for candidates who got at least 20% of the convention delegate vote
● Required payment of a filing fee.
“Filing of candidacies; state or district office” and “filing of candidacies; municipal office, committee, members, delegates” appear in different sections of the act. Though it is a clear and deliberate distinction, nothing in the floor debate refers to it. The compromise necessary to pass a primary bill appears to have
1. retained the method some towns were using to nominate candidates and extended it to all towns and
2. allowed for a primary for state and district office candidates while maintaining an important role for political parties.