Connecticut Governor Race: Integrity Issues

Initial assessment…to be updated and subject to further editing. 4:00pm – extensive editing.

Yesterday as the ballot issues developed in Bridgeport, I was at work as a central count absentee ballot moderator in Vernon, CT. Sometime during the evening we heard some sketchy details about what happened. Our focus was on getting our count complete. After we were done I listened to more sketchy details along with some election results, as I waited in the registrars office for my turn to have our results checked and be submitted to contribute to Vernon’s totals – a few more Bridgeport details emerged. The complexity of the election required extra time and care to calculate the results in each district, especially even the relatively small number of hand counted ballots.  There were may races and most had cross-endorsed, “fusion” voting candidates.  That also required extra time and extra care reviewing and accumulating results for all the districts.

At this point 10:00am , reading several news reports, some of the details are still sketchy and the initial election results are yet to be fully reported. According to the Hartford Courant at this point, with 90% of the districts reporting, Tom Foley-R leads Dan Malloy-D by a bit over 11,000 votes, yet the Courant reports Bridgeport unofficially as adding enough to give Malloy about a 1,500 vote lead. Yet, that still leaves a large number of other districts unaccounted for, perhaps most notably, Danbury where Foley’s running mate, Mark Boughton is Mayor.

Yet, from the details we have so far, we can start our list of issues with the situation in Bridgeport:

  • An annoying lack of ballots. Like many municipalities in this election, Bridgeport, most notably the February 2008 Presidential Primary.  We don’t know why Bridgeport did not print enough ballots: inaccurate calculations, inaccurate projections/guesstimates, false economy, or local politics? The logistics is complicated by having ten different ballot formats covering the 25 polling districts.
  • Usually just an annoyance to the public. Faced with a shortage of ballots, registrars make paper copies of ballots which can be counted by hand, but not our scanners. This annoys voters who would rather vote on an official, scanned ballot. This annoys the public because they suspect skulduggery and want the results quickly.
  • And a concern to voting integrity advocates. This concerns voting integrity advocates like CTVotersCount because we prefer the dual safety of optical scanners and paper ballots.  In addition, Connecticut officials have a poor track record in counting complicated ballots, especially those with cross-endorsed candidates <here> and <here> in audits, when they are well rested and under observation, with optical scanner results to compare with their counts! Unfortunately, we have no faith, coupled with no evidence to provide assurance that hand counts late at night by tired officials are close to accurate – hand counted ballots are never audited in Connecticut. We do have evidence that officials do not always count accurately in the audits, and many claims by officials that they are unable to accurately count paper ballots.
  • Becomes an issue of voter disenfranchisement. Unlike other municipalities that have faced the same problem, Bridgeport did not react quickly enough. Apparently from the reports (sketchy) the ballots were not copied to be available in time to prevent some districts from running out.  Apparently voters were turned away or quit waiting. Why copies were not available in time is worth understanding. It lead to these real issues of disenfranchisement.
  • Judge steps in to solve disenfranchisement, resulting in additional serious fairness issues. The polls were mandated to be open an extra two hours, but the voting was not limited to those in line by 8:00pm. Voters were robo-called by the town to explain that the polls would be open to 10:00pm. This would certainly mitigate the disenfranchisement problem, but likely cause more voters to vote than originally would have. Tentative results were available before that time showing that Malloy and Congressional candidate Jim Himes, both Democrates were behind. With Bridgeport highly Democratic an opportunity was open for voters to know that their votes might well change the result. Clearly if Malloy wins the election, it will be up to the courts to sort out how to determine how Connecticut’s next governor is chosen.

We continue our issues with election integrity in Connecticut, especially in close elections:

  • Connecticut calls for a close vote recanvass in very close elections. It is not a recount: We have pointed out  recanvasses inadequacies for sufficient accuracy and transparency for very close elections.
  • Even a recanvass calls for a very close vote: The law calls for a recanvass when the difference is 0.5%, but a maximum of 2000 votes, which amounts to a bit less than 0.2% (correction, earlier version said .02% — no consolation to admit that I am human and an election official) in this race.  If Malloy gains just 500 more votes or Foley gains 3,500 more there will be not be a recanvass.
  • Connecticut has an error prone, difficult to verify way of accumulating votes. We use a three step process of manual counting and transcription to report summary results. In 2008, in just one municipality, a large error was included in statewide results, several times greater than the 2000 vote limit for recanvasses. So, just one error in initial reporting could easily avoid a critical recanvass, and the opportunity for a subsequent court ordered recount — and result in the incorrect winner declared.
  • Another “opportunity” for skulduggery hidden as incompetence: Knowing all the other reports, just one “innocent” transposition in one result not yet reported could prevent a recanvass for an apparent winner or cause one for an apparent looser.  Or holding back on correcting a discovered error could also provide the same opportunity.

Update 11:31 Malloy now leads by 631 votes with 692 of 751 districts reporting, Danbury still not reported. (These are AP results, not the official results from the Secretary of the State’s Office.

Update: 2:00: Bysiewicz announces Malloy is the winner and no “recount”, without complete results.  Margin sits at about 3000 votes about 1000 from recanvass. <read>

Dannel Malloy has won the election for governor, and there will be no statewide recount, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz announced this afternoon.

Even though votes in the governor’s race were still being counted, both Democrat Dan Malloy and Republican Tom Foley were inching closer to declaring victory Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said if there is a recount, it could be weeks before the winner is known.

We point out:

  • We don’t have a recount but a recanvass, by law, even our Secretary of the State is usually imprecise on that
  • When all the votes are officially reported the winner might well change and we could easily be in recanvass territory
  • By law the recanvass must be completed within five business days from the election. This is the first we have heard from the Secretary that she predicts such cannot be accomplished. Several recanvasses in the 2nd congressional district, such as 2006, were completed within the law

Also listening and calling in to the Colin McEnroe show with guest, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and other callers including candidate Tom Foley:

  • The Secretary points out the advantage of having both a Democratic and Republican registrar watching out for voters interests in Bridgeport. Later the Secretary talked about discussions in the Legislature toward making registrars single non-elected officials, and then requiring their certification.
  • Tom Foley was not comfortable with the announcement of the winner without official results, he is anxious to reconcile results with the Secretary’s office.
  • [In a similar vein, we are also working to reconcile the Audit Coalition Post-Election Audit Results of the August Primary with the Official UConn report which has been forwarded to us by the Secretary of the State's Office. The UConn report shows much less differences than the Coalition report. It has yet to be published on the UConn site.]
  • I did get to ask the Secretary to reconcile her statements in the Courant that the recanvass would take several weeks, with the law and past experience.  She did agree that it would and must be completed by next Tuesday.  We both agree if subsequent to the recanvass, a court ordered recount might take weeks.
  • Weeks or months, there will likely be quite a difference in Connecticut based on which candidate wins.  A Democratic Legislature will continue. With two candidates from two different parties there will be a dramatic difference in plans and gridlock.

Update 10:50pm: AP has Folley up by 8,424, withdraws call for Malloy, Bysiewicz yet to release results supporting her statement of Malloy lead of 3,103. According to Channel 8 <read>

Update 11/4 11:00pm: Out of state most of the day. Susan Bysiewicz scheduled a press conference to announce results, delayed it, and then said would not announce official results today.  Now I am back we find that Bridgeport suddenly realized that they did not count one bag of 335 ballots.  Foley calls a foul.  I suspect incompetence. From CTNewsJunkie: “Found” Bag Of 335 Ballots Opened, Counted <read>

Bridgeport missed a legal deadline to finish counting its votes at 6 p.m. Wednesday. It’s still counting votes late into Thursday night. When they finish, Connecticut may finally find out whether Republican Foley or Democrat Dan Malloy is the state’s next chief elected official.

A tired worker responsible for counting ballots at the JFK School polling place she apparently went home after Tuesday night’s elections before the work was done. Only on Thursday night—when, because of a whole bunch of mistakes and problems in Bridgeport’s vote, officials were still busy working on an official tally—did the existence of the bag of uncounted ballots left behind become known.

Chris Covucci, Foley’s state field director, was present as Amy Espinosa opened the bag Thursday night. He objected to the decision to count these ballots. He said they should be taken to a neutral place and counted by a third party.

“We don’t know where they’ve been,” he said…

Bridgeport Republican Registrar of Voters Joe Borges confirmed in an interview that moderator Espinosa went home without finishing counting after the election Tuesday night. She left behind the bag of photocopied ballots—facsimiles of official ballots that Bridgeport gave to voters after real ballots ran out.

The bag contained 335 ballots. Officials had kept it sealed and say they knew of its existence.

Borges quoted Espinosa as saying she was going home Tuesday night “because of the late hour.”

“I can’t do it. I’m tired. I’ve got to go to work” the next day, he quoted her as saying.

Laske himself later issued a statement calling it “ completely irresponsible for counsel for the Foley campaign to mischaracterize this part of the process to the media, and to assert that any impropriety exists with regard to these ballots, which have been secured since they were cast, and their existence has been fully disclosed to the parties and to the public.”

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