Absentee Fraud in Bridgeport? Who could have imagined?

A couple hours ago we quoted Denise Merrill when she said “Most of this stuff doesn’t get attention until something goes wrong“. Right on cue, an opportunity presents itself to address the current risks of absentee voting and avoid the expanded potential for fraud and disenfranchisement with no-excuse absentee voting:

Article in the Connecticut Post:  MariAn Gail Brown: Absentee ballot issues cast doubt on primary <read>

Hendricks is the voter who filed an affidavit claiming state Rep. Ezequiel Santiago showed up on her doorstep last Thursday asking if she was voting by absentee ballot. When Hendricks informed him that her vote in next Tuesday’s primary would be cast by absentee ballot, Santiago made her an offer.

“He told me that he would take the ballot from me,” Hendricks says in a sworn statement, “to turn in if I hadn’t sent it already.”

Hendricks might be old but if her mind is still sharp, assuming her assessment of the situation is correct, this is an election law violation. The only people who can turn in absentee ballots are electors themselves, their legal guardian, or a caretaker such as a doctor or nurse who has an affidavit signed by the absentee voter…

“I was there that day to check to see whether the residents received their ballots or not,” Santiago says. “I also stressed to them that they shouldn’t allow anyone from any campaign (to) help them fill out their ballots for them.”

Don’t you just wonder why a state representative who is also a city employee who makes it a point to tell Hendricks, according to her affidavit, that he does “a lot of work up in Hartford for senior citizens” would then tell Connecticut Post reporter John Burgeson that he merely “stressed to them that they shouldn’t allow anyone from any campaign” to help them? If that really was Santiago’s mission, why show up there? He could have just as easily issued a letter to his constituents. It’s just hard to buy that Santiago wasn’t there to troll for absentee ballots.

Maybe only because they checked, and maybe only because of this attention it was discovered that the voter was sent two absentee ballots:

 The only way Hendricks would have received two absentee ballots, Bridgeport’s town clerk says, is that she filed two absentee ballot applications. To Maya, this points out another shortcoming in the election process in Connecticut’s biggest city.

“What we need is an automated absentee ballot system. I’ve researched that. And I even found one that met our needs,” Maya says. “But there were glitches in the program that I found and we can’t use that. But we have so many absentee ballots that this system we have of doing all this by hand doesn’t work anymore.”

We are not buying that excuse.

“What we need is an automated absentee ballot system. I’ve researched that. And I even found one that met our needs,” Maya says. “But there were glitches in the program that I found and we can’t use that. But we have so many absentee ballots that this system we have of doing all this by hand doesn’t work anymore.”

A decade ago Bridgeport’s town clerk had 17 employees. In 2007, the department had nine employees. And now with retirements and layoffs, this campaign season the town clerk’s is down to six staffers, who not only process absentee ballots, but handle land records, register business trade names and issue dog licenses, among other things.

As the article says the number of absentee ballots sent for this election is 1,100. We wonder how many of those are duplicates? So far, it seems that for the one voter checked, it was a duplicate. Just last November, the  citizen Bridgeport Recount showed 1,221 absentee votes for Governor, but the city’s official count was 1,181, so there is certainly plenty of precedent for inaccurate counts in Bridgeport, yet the 1,100 represents a decrease in absentee ballots sent last November. (Unless some magically appeared back then.)

 Who says there is little a single legislator can do to affect election integrity and confidence? Human error can change an election result or serve as a ready excuse to cover-up fraud.

Related: Today, Secretary Merrill responds to critical editorial, articulates her position on early voting, mail-in, and no-excuse absentee voting. <read>

Update: We have looked up the existing Google election application used by many to find their polling places. Politico: Google polling app misleads voters <read> Last spring we attended a presentation by Google on the system. In reply to our question, the Google representative confirmed that the application is only as good as the data supplied by the state. Which in Connecticut’s case would need to come from our inaccurate state system as reported by the Audit Coalition. Sadly, the Legislature and the Secretary of the State’s Office chose not to require Registrars to keep the system up to date, but choose to have Registrars file yet another paper report with the Secretary of the State <see our testimony page 16>

Sec 4. (NEW) Also requires registrars to certify to the Secretary of the State a list of polling
places prior to each election. The Secretary of the State needs to have an accurate list of polling
places to be in compliance with the law and to restore the integrity of the post-election audit
random drawing.

We support this goal, but propose a more efficient 21st century solution.

We recommend instead that registrars be required to certify that the Statewide Centralized Voter
Registration System is up to date with the correct list of polling places, rather than submit a list
of polling places. In 2010 the Secretary of the State’s Office used the registration system
information to provide voters with online access to verify their registration and determine the
location of their polling place – it would seem to be more efficient to have

  • registrars be required to keep the online list accurate,
  • provide voters with certified accurate information.

Our recommendation would

  • avoid redundant transcription by the registrars,
  • reduce the paperwork and redundant data entry required for the random drawing, while increasing automation at the Secretary of the State’s Office,
  • and provide voters with accurate polling place information, available online.
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