Courant stands for election integrity ( with Windsor/Hartford log of events)

It was a close primary in Windsor/Hartford with the first official count at a tie, then followed by a recanvass leaving two ballots missing or overcounted on election day. Today the Courant supports the current apparent loser in bringing questions to court: ‘Landslide Leo’: 1-Vote Margin In District 5 Bears Further Scrutiny <read>

Who could blame first-time candidate Brandon McGee for asking the state Superior Court to take a look at the vote-counting procedures in his state House district after the Aug. 14 primary election?

Last week, registrars said union activist Leo Canty defeated Mr. McGee by one vote — 774 to 773 — to win the Democratic nomination for the 5th House District seat in Windsor and part of Hartford. The Democratic winner will face Windsor board of education member Paul Panos, a Republican, in the Nov. 6 general election.

Enough doubt has been raised about the vote that taking it to court is a reasonable course for Mr. McGee to follow.

The initial tabulation on election night and a subsequent recount showed first a McGee victory by one vote, then a tie and then the one-vote margin for Mr. Canty. There apparently is a missing paper absentee ballot, as well as one lost McGee machine vote, after the recount, in Windsor. There are also procedural questions…

Such questions must be answered so that all voters can have faith in the integrity of the system.

We have long said that while, useful, Connecticut’s recanvass are weak versions of recounts. Recanvasses are insufficient in very close races. Even a recount in this situation may not be adequate to determine the actual choice of the voters.

The issue here seems to turn more on the two “missing” ballots. Are they actually missing or were there  miscounts on election day? As we and many officials point out people can count inaccurately, especially if they do not take measures to verify their work. It is possible for machines to count inaccurately, or for jams or ballots to be mishandled so that ballot(s) are counted twice. Also, Connecticut’s check-in procedures make it easy for counts to be off by small numbers in either direction.

We have no horse in this race. Even though I attended both recanvasses, I was not an official observer, was only able to observe from a distance, and was not privy to0 conversations/details discussed between officials and official observers – especially conversations relating to the “missing” ballots. I did see some inadequate procedures/actions in both recanvasses, that provide potential integrity holes, but have no evidence of a faulty count. One of my major concerns with recanvasses is the inadequate review of individual ballots for potential voter intent issues – this does not seem to be a significant factor in this case of a vary simple ballot, presumably experienced voters, and apparently few close calls in the actual ballots. Unfortunately, I missed the last exciting hours of the Windsor recanvass. (I went out for a quick meal, but found the building locked when I returned.)

We would add to the Courant’s concern in this obvious and difficult situation, that part of the cure is more vigilance and attention to detail ahead of time and in every election, this close or not. Learning from experience and reducing the odds of lingering questions. For example, to date, the system has never recognized a problem with the results in Bridgeport in 2010, or with the significant discrepancies in that election in the number of voters checked-in vs. ballots*. When campaigning, our current Secretary of the State recognized the problem in lack of uniformity in a recanvass crossing Bloomfield and Hartford. Unfortunately, no changes have been made to correct that problem, perhaps we would not be in this situation today if procedures, training, and vigilance had increased.

* Since the Bridgeport Recount was not official, we would not expect it to change official results. Still, there has never been any official recognition or attempted cure for the inaccurate counting and discrepancies between check-in lists and ballot counts. There are new laws to reduce the chances of running out of official ballots and to make copied ballots so that voting does not get interrupted by lack of ballots or weather emergencies. There is no routine audit of check-in lists vs. ballot counts.

Update:  Windsor Patch: McGee Files Complaint, Seeks Hearing on Primary Results   <read>

According to a statement released by McGee, the complaint filed in court alleges election officials:

  • “improperly allowed absentee ballots to be counted that were not counted by tabulation on primary Election Day or during the recanvass;
  • “improperly allowed absentee ballots to comingle, allowing for an improper count;
  • “and lost a ballot that was cast in McGee’s favor in Windsor’s John F. Kennedy voting district.”

The complaint says the actions specified are in violation of state statues, and requests a court hearing be held.

While alleging improper actions were taken by election officials, McGee was explicit in saying, “…nowhere in this action is my campaign alleging any wrongdoing by either Mr. Canty or Mayor Trinks.”

“I want to ensure that those who exercised their right were not deprived of their voice, and that the will of the people is ascertained without question of process,” he added.

In detailing the recanvass, the complaint, according to McGee, names Hartford Democratic Registrar of Voters Olga Iris Vazquez, Hartford Town and City Clerk John Bazzano, Windsor Democratic Registrar of Voters Anita Mips, Windsor Town Clerk Agnes Pier, Secretary of State Denise Merrill, the state elections enforcement committee, and fifth assembly district candidates Canty and Trinks.

Update 8/31/2012:  Hartford Clerk Testifies In Hearing On 5th State House District Primary Vote <read>

Update 9/6/2012: Testimony Continues In Disputed 5th Statehouse District Democratic Primary<read> Take some of the summary statements about the testimony with a few grains of salt.

Update 9/7/2012: Testimony In Disputed Democratic Primary Race Focuses On Elusive Ballot <read>

Update 9/12/2012:  Testimony Ends In 5th General Assembly District Election Complaint <read>

Among other things:

[Superior Court Judge A. Susan] Peck added that she was concerned about the fact that 525 ballots were cast in Windsor, but poll workers only crossed off 523 names, violating state law.

Yes, but we suspect  being a little off happens frequently. We have no statistics to go on, unfortunately the check-in lists and easy to make a small number of errors. We point to huge errors in Bridgeport in 2010 which, unfortunately, raised little concern at the time or since, from the unofficial Citizen’s Bridgeport Recount Report:

In several districts the counts of ballots differed from the check-in list counts, and in several districts, our counts of the check-in lists differed from the counts on the moderators’ reports.  In many districts check-in list counts closely paralleled ballot counts, yet some counts were over by 21 ballots or less or under by 30 ballots or less. While some variation can be expected due to the difficulty of interpreting some check-in marks, we found several districts where the check-in lists were clearly not counted accurately. In one district, results were under by 117 ballots less than voters checked- in based on our counts.

Update 9/14/2012 Peck Orders Second Recount In 5th Assembly District  <read>

Update 9/18/2012 Uncounted, Missing Ballot Found in 2nd Windsor Recanvass <read>

Update 9/18/2012 Town Clerk: Unopened Absentee Ballot Erroneously Marked “Deceased”  <read>

Update 9/18/2012: Now it is down to opening that one vote <read>

Update 9/19/2012: A revote Oct 2nd in Hartford/Windsor <read>

Update 9/19/2012: Third Shoe Drops, Trinks drops out <read>

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