Ballot Shortage, Vote Count Delay Prompts Talk of Changes

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By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut lawmakers are mulling over potential changes to state election law in the wake of last week’s ballot shortage in Bridgeport that led to confusion over who won the governor’s race.

Bridgeport’s voter registrars acknowledged they ordered only 21,000 ballots for Tuesday, despite a recommendation from the Secretary of the State’s Office that they purchase at least one ballot for each of the city’s registered voters. The city has more than 69,000 registered voters.

The shortage led to delays at polling places, the use of photocopies as provisional ballots, and eventually a court order that kept about half of the city precincts open two hours late. The problems led to counting delays and threats of legal challenges.

“Connecticut deserves better,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, who is reviewing the results.

Democrat Dan Malloy won the governor’s race. The Secretary of the State’s Office said he led by 5,637 votes.
Some lawmakers say the state needs to learn from Tuesday’s mistakes.

“We’re going to need to mandate the number of ballots each town orders,” said state Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex and the House chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee. “We’re going to have to mandate that there is a ballot for every voter, and maybe a few extras as well.”

Others are not sure the answer is that simple.

Each ballot costs between 50 cents to $1 to print, less if the order is large enough, according to Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz’s office.

That was not a problem in the past. After switching from lever machines in 2007, cities and towns paid for paper ballots using federal funds from the Help America Vote Act, a measure passed to help state’s modernize after the 2000 presidential election snafu in Florida. But this year, the cost of printing ballots switched back to the cities and towns.

Sandi Ayala, Bridgeport’s Democratic registrar of voters, said past assumptions of a 65 percent voter turnout had led to many unused ballots. Also, she said, cost was an issue in the city’s decision of how many ballots to order.

But Mayor Bill Finch vehemently denied that the city put any budgetary pressure on the registrars.

“It was by no means a financial matter,” he said. “I have no idea where something as ridiculous as that comes from.”
State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford and Senate chair on the election committee, said Bridgeport wasn’t the only municipality that underestimated the turnout. But she said she doesn’t want to force towns to order more ballots than they need.

“I think that would become an example of government waste that would just make people more angry in this climate,” she said.

She said the committee should look at better education of registrars to help them predict turnout more accurately. She said the state also might look at sharing the costs of ballots.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he thinks the legislature should consider using some of the public funds currently given to candidates for their campaigns to pay for the ballots.

“Dan Malloy got $8 million of public money to run his gubernatorial campaign,” he said. “That’s a mind-boggling figure. So it makes no sense for politicians to say we can’t spend money on printing ballots, when we spend so much money on our campaigns.”

McKinney also thinks it might be necessary to codify the responsibility of the secretary of the state to oversee local registrars and make sure they are prepared for elections. He also is calling for the state to change the numbers that trigger recounts in statewide elections.

Under state law, a margin of less than 2,000 votes in a statewide race triggers a recount.

“That number is clearly too small,” McKinney said.

Lawmakers also are expected to look at the time it takes to report election results, the efficiency of the optical scanning machines, and whether the secretary of the state should be allowed to report unofficial returns.

“We must put policies in place that assure voters maintain their constitutionally given right to vote,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, who was re-elected in the 4th District, which includes Bridgeport. “This includes not only ensuring ballots are available to everyone who chooses to vote but also ensuring officials are properly trained, voting facilities have appropriate resources, and voters can cast their ballot in a timely fashion.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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