Thursday, November 04, 2010

Election 2010, Florida-Style

Two days after the election, and we still don't know who our next Governor will be.  There has been a lot of confusion and turmoil throughout the state as people try to understand what's going on. Reading and listening to people's comments, I think the biggest source of confusion has been the sources of information. We've become accustomed to knowing who has won an election before all the votes have been counted--candidates often concede when fewer than half the votes have been counted. In the case of this year's gubernatorial election, we won't know who won until every vote has been counted.

This afternoon, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz announced that we're still waiting for the Bridgeport numbers. Yesterday she felt confident enough about the tentative numbers to declare Malloy the winner, which heightened the statewide frenzy. The Associate Press initially declared Malloy the winner, then undeclared it following a screw-up in which the AP actually thought that only 8,000 people voted in New Haven. Since realizing their mistake, the AP has since refused to declare a winner and has emphasized that they don't jump to conclusions.

Not including the Bridgeport votes, Foley is ahead by about 8,000. It's hard to think that Foley has lost when the numbers so far show him winning. Eight thousand, however, is not that large a number when more than 1 million votes have been cast, nor is it that large a number when there are about 30,000 votes from Bridgeport left to factor into the equation. Tentative numbers suggest that Malloy has won a large enough majority of the Bridgeport votes to win the overall election. Odds are, given Bridgeport's political leanings and the size of their turnout following Obama's visit, that Malloy has won a majority of the votes there.

I tried to access the official Bridgeport results from the 2006 election, to get a feel for how Bridgeport voted in the last gubernatorial race, but the website of the Secretary of State crashed my computer (what do you want to read into that!). Then I tried to find the 2006 results on the city of Bridgeport's website, but they aren't listed there (unlike Waterbury, where past election results are available online).

The biggest debacle of the election has been the dearth of ballots in Bridgeport and elsewhere. When Connecticut began switching over to the new optical scan (fill-in-the-bubble) system four years ago, Bysiewicz promoted the new machines as having security from fraud or outside intrusion. What she apparently forgot to prepare for was the possibility that a town's registrar of voters might not order enough ballots.

Ballots are not free. Naugatuck reported in today's Rep-Am that they paid between 25 and 35 cents per ballot. Waterbury had a two-side ballot this year, to accommodate the charter revision questions, so that might have cost a little more. The cost of purchasing ballots comes out of each town's budget. Bridgeport's registrar felt the need to pinch pennies, ordering only 21,000 ballots for their 69,000 registered voters.

Again, I would like to be able to access official voter turnout numbers from 2006, but I can't, so I have to rely on secondary sources. According to an October 26 article in The CT Mirror, Bridgeport's turnout was 40,682 voters in 2008 and about half that in 2006. If there were only about 20,000 people who came out to vote in Bridgeport in 2006, you can almost see that the registrar was correct in ordering 21,000 ballots. Almost.

At the heart of the matter is the incredibly important right to vote and its sibling, the opportunity to vote. Interestingly, the right to vote is not generally protected by the Constitution. Several Amendments to the Constitution state that the right to vote can't be denied or abridged on the basis of race, color, previous condition of servitude (slavery), sex (gender), failure to pay any poll tax or other tax (that's right, poll tax--the thing that should guarantee there are enough ballots purchased), or age if 18+.

An unknown number of Bridgeport voters were denied their right to vote because there weren't any ballots left. Other towns also ran out of ballots and switched to xeroxed ballots. I haven't heard about any voters in other towns being told they couldn't vote. I have read accounts of total chaos in Bridgeport, which led to a judge granting Bridgeport the right to keep their polls open an extra two hours, to allow the voters who were denied the right to vote enough time to try again. Word is 500 people voted after 8 p.m.

Republicans, fearing that Foley will lose, have been making noise about not allowing at least some of Bridgeport's votes to count because they were cast on xeroxed ballots. This seems like poor sportsmanship to me. The new optical scan voting system, and the penny-pinching of registrars in Bridgeport and elsewhere, created a situation in which there weren't enough ballots. The registrars were trapped in a crisis and came up with a reasonable solution: create more ballots by copying blank ballots. Which is more important: protecting everyone's right to vote, or quibbling over a technicality?

Throughout the past three days, the debacle in Bridgeport has reminded everyone of Florida and the hanging chads. There are some similarities to that election, in which Bush was declared the winner of the Florida election following a Supreme Court decision giving authority to the original certification by the Secretary of State of 537 more votes for Bush than Gore. This was a very disturbing case, since Bush's own brother was the Governor of Florida. The results have been disputed by numerous authorities, and unofficial recounts have given the majority of votes to Gore. If nothing else, the Florida case shows the complexities of counting.

Connecticut Republicans in Foley's camp have said, if Malloy is declared the winner, they will fight the results in court. Just like Bush did in Florida. Interestingly, Foley is an old friend of George W. Bush. I wonder if he's been getting any advice from Bush since Tuesday. Then again, Foley is a banker specializing in leveraged buyouts, so he has plenty of experience playing hardball.

1 comment:

Waterbury Girl said...

More kudos to Waterbury's Registrar's office for its professionalism. Patricia Mulhall believes in being rested before doing the final counts, which reduces error. Here's the section about this from an article in today's Rep-Am:

The Democratic registrar of voters in Waterbury, Patricia Mulhall, said election officials there avoid such transcription mistakes by waiting to check their official results until they’ve had a good night’s sleep.

Mulhall said she was up for 23 hours straight by the time she left the polls early Wednesday morning. Election officials face tremendous pressure to produce the numbers, Mulhall said, but “you can’t give in to it.”