Bridgeport Continues Count One Month Later


Exactly one month later, Connecticut’s election results for Governor could still change.

Even after three vote counts -each with different tallies, give and take between the Foley and Malloy campaigns on who was right, and then the ultimate concession speech by Tom Foley, the debacle in Connecticut’s largest city still continues. An extensive recount being conducted by the Connecticut Citizen Audit coalition at the request of the Connecticut Post newspaper is halfway completed. A bipartisan commission was also appointed by Mayor Bill Finch to investigate what went wrong and what should be corrected. They have quite the job to tackle with a one month deadline in the midst of angry residents, clear facts, and cloudy misinformation. Some of the uproar begun at a hearing held on Nov. 22nd, where one City Councilor exclaimed that “I wouldn’t have stood in line that long to vote for MYSELF!” referring to the four hours some residents waited for ballots.

Enter a citizens volunteer group of vote counters. The Connecticut Citizen Audit Coalition has existed since the new electronic tallying machines were introduced to Connecticut three years ago. The group’s founders were concerned that while the new technology was an improvement over the old lever machines, the new system was ripe for tampering. For instance, when you slide your ballot into the machine the counter will verify that a ballot was inserted, but how do you know your colored oval will be counted for the candidate you selected? This is particularly concerning if a voter marks their ballot in a way other than coloring in the oval, or marks it with an ‘x’ or checkmark that may go outside the lines. The group has sent observers to routine audits which are required of 10% of all voting precincts these audits and documented inconsistencies in the voting process beyond the Secretary of State’s usual statements verifying everything was a-ok.

While their work in 6 election audit cycles has been commendable, their role was only as observers. This means that their members could only look at a ballot and make sure poll workers are behaving properly and following procedures. But now, they are counting the ballots in an otherwise large but empty room in a city with 137,000 residents and 69,000 voters. Actually having their hands on the ballots is a new step for the organization. The group is relatively small, and wasn’t quite prepared for this week’s large recount. On Monday they projected to be done on Thursday, though they expected kinks would need to be worked out. The group’s Executive Director, Luther Weeks tells the Whisper that they now expect to be finished on Monday or Tuesday. “We expected more people today to help out. But as you can see, we only have three teams counting.” He hoped to have a fourth. Anyone who wants to volunteer for the day or to observe should go to Bridgeport’s City Hall Annex at 9 am.

And what will the recount reveal? Well, the group is hand counting every vote cast, rather than placing them in the tabulating machines. Print-out strips from those machines were used during election week for totals, and they tallies have not been verified since then. The previous three counts done by the city used the machine tabulator sheets. “Questionable” ballots – ballots which are marked with “X”s or check marks or are not fully filled in, are placed aside to make sure the voter intent is clear. The Coalition believes that machines are unlikely to read all of these ballots correctly. They are also counting photocopied ballots by hand just as was done during election week – with one exception. “These guys have been able to go home, sleep AND eat – and its still a tough process!” says Republican Registrar of Voters Joe Borges referring to the sheer volume of ballots that are being counted. Each night bags are re-sealed with the supervision of independent and city moderators just as if they would be on election night. Observers from the organization, city, and public also walk them to a secure location and seals are verified again the next day.

During the count, the group is disregarding the City’s results and will only compare the results when the count is complete. That is expected to be Tuesday.

During the original tally, sleep was not an option while the world outside McLevy Hall waited to hear who the next Governor will be. In addition to the usual elections duties, moderators at 12 precincts also had to tabulate a large number of hand counted ballots, the last of which was returned to the central registrar’s office at almost 4 am. All moderators work throughout election day. This means arriving at a polling location at 5 am to set up, and then staying until after polls close at 8 pm. The result was at least a 24 hour day for many of the election workers.

As returns arrived at McLevy Hall in Bridgeport in the form of moderators’ worksheets, new teams compiled the information for a final report which at some point would be submitted to the Secretary of State’s office. This sounds like simple math, however there are 25 different precincts and each of the 41 candidates needed to be tabulated. For local races, such as State Senate and State Representative, multiple districts needed to be added together. A CT Post reporter on election night remarked that she never gets final results before 3 am. She may have been the most rested on election night, arriving just around 3 am. The suspense didn’t get past three Malloy supporters who were seen nodding off at 5 am in the hallway of McLevy Hall waiting for results. Other media began arriving at around that time. “Anything yet?” they asked. “Probably another 20 minutes” replied a city attorney for the next two hours.

Results were released at about 7:15 am by the head moderator. The results that day – with Malloy receiving 19,847 votes and Foley with 6,634 did not include vote counts from JFK School. At that point, the registrar’s office had the machine tally from JFK, but the photocopied ballots hadn’t been counted, yet the bag was sealed and locked securely that morning. Later reports by the Foley campaign of a ‘missing bag’ were false.

Despite the 26 hour day, however, the election workers didn’t go home quite yet. For unknown reasons, another tabulated count was made on Wednesday afternoon and evening. The tallies of that report were never released after campaign observers and city attorneys found the numbers to be unreliable. All those present agreed that fatigue was setting in and workers should go home. They resumed a new count on Thursday evening into Friday morning.

On Friday morning, Mayor Finch held a press conference with a 3rd set of numbers. This time, both Malloy’s and Foley’s were smaller than they were two days before, although the margin of Malloy’s lead grew. Also, Independent Party candidate Tom Marsh’s totals were finally released:

Foley – 4,099
Malloy – 17,038
Marsh – 113

While each of those counts showed that Dan Malloy won decisively, events elsewhere in Connecticut kept the spotlight on Bridgeport. At the time, Republican Tom Foley’s campaign maintained that their internal numbers showed him winning by a few hundred votes. Democrat Dan Malloy’s campaign proclaimed that they were “absolutely certain” that their numbers would show that they won by at least 2,000 votes. While the press machine of two candidates are programmed to give the public conflicting numbers to energize their supporters – even though their supporters already cast their votes and cannot cast any more – even official tabulators were unclear on who won. The Secretary of State declared Malloy the winner while 20 towns still had not reported results. At the same time, the Associated Press- which isn’t an official tabulator but does have sources at polling locations, town halls, and campaign headquarters – declared Foley the winner… then Malloy… then recanted after they realized their numbers didn’t include most of New Haven. Confused?

This is the stuff that is only supposed to happen in 3rd world countries, not where we exchange thoughts, money and e-cards across the country in seconds. So what’s going on?

Well, in the aftermath, elections workers had to count even more carefully than normal. If tallies showed that Foley and Malloy had less than a 2,000 vote difference, then there would be a statewide recount. In Torrington alone, a tabulation error gave Foley a 2,000 vote gain a day later than what he had election night morning. But in Bridgeport, they had to count the machine count, absentee votes, photocopied paper ballots, AND ballots cast after 8 pm which was allowed by a court order.

The recount taking place by the citizens’ group this week is well grounded. In 2007, Bridgeport nearly had a recount in its Democratic primary after it was found that there were more votes counted than voters crossed off on checklists. And in October of this year, two people were arrested after listing their home address as a vacant parking lot as their address in an attempt to obtain 200 absentee ballot applications. These were the known problems. A State Senate candidate found that his name wasn’t on the ballot at a precinct in his district.

And then there was misinformation and theories. The Foley campaign suggestion that a bag of ballots mysteriously surfaced has added to urban legend. Susan Bysiewicz added to the misinformation by saying over 500 ballots were cast between 8 and 10 pm. In reality, only 66 votes were cast during that period. Some analysts note a large discrepancy in vote proportions this year compared to previous votes. And then there’s rumors that paper ballots with filled- in ovals for Democrats were distributed outside polling places when the paper ones ran out. It remains to be seen if Malloy won simply because of a superior Democratic strategy – with the help of a visit from the President days before election day – or something else.

And yet, 8 other cities and small towns – including New Haven and Hartford also ran out of ballots. Smaller towns, like Windsor Locks and Salem did as well. Whatever happens, the campaign isn’t over until the last vote is counted.

A Bridgeport Opinion – from “Only In Bridgeport” blog

Results for Governor by Town

Site with links to video of the public hearing: http://bagofvotes.com/

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