Broken System: Bridgeport Primary Does Not Add Up

Summary: This article and the Bridgeport Primary expose the problems with a “system” that ignores and excuses discrepancies that are discovered. As we have often pointed out in post-election audit reports, ignoring and excusing away discrepancies means that if there is ever an error or a fraud it will not be recognized. In this case we will never know who actually won the Bridgeport Primary. We may have some penalties assessed by Elections Enforcement. All we know for sure is that this was not a reliable election, that voting integrity in Connecticut is far from assured and does not exist in Bridgeport.

ConnPost article by Bill Cummings: Voting Numbers Do Not Add Up <read>

In the midst of a heated court battle over last fall’s Democratic mayoral primary, state Rep. Christopher Caruso’s legal team asserted there were more votes than voters.

City officials and their lawyers scoffed at Caruso’s contention, calling it untrue and irresponsible.

However, a Connecticut Post examination of election records from the Sept. 11, 2007, primary shows there were more votes than voters — 105 more.

Not enough to change the outcome — state Sen. Bill Finch defeated Caruso by 270 votes — but enough to raise some electoral eyebrows.

The Post found 105 more ballots were run through the optical scan voting machines than there were voters who checked into polling places. A total of 9,804 voters cast ballots for mayor.

At Park City Magnet School 249 people checked into vote and 280 ballots were run through the machine — 31 more than the number of voters. Park City is in the heart of Caruso’s legislative district and is considered one of his strongest districts.

At Roosevelt School, 309 voters checked in to vote and 329 ballots were passed through the machine. “I’ve said from the beginning that this election was stolen,” Caruso said.

“You only needed a few votes to swing that election one way or the other. When you put it all together, there was a conspiracy between the Democratic Town Committee, supporters of Finch and a willing registrar of voters,” Caruso said.

How far off does an election have to be, how much incompetence and questions have to exist before we rerun an election? Apparently, in Connecticut, lots more than this:

The vote is accurate. I’m really, really sure of that. Candidates were not affected by any of this,” said Santa Ayala, the Democratic Registrar of Voters, who ran the election.

Finch said he’s confident there were no significant problems during the election.

“As determined by the State Supreme Court, the minor irregularities in this primary were no different from any other election under either the new or old voting systems,” Finch said.

Without evidence, we can push responsibility on to the underpaid and un(der) trained poll workers or if that fails the voters. Whose job is it to make sure the job is done correctly? The Registrars and the Moderators are responsible for what happens at the polling place:

It’s possible the 105 ballots represent mistakes by poll workers who failed to check off voters as they entered the polls. If so, that’s a violation of election law and raises questions about who cast the ballots. Voting law is designed to ensure that only registered voters vote, and only one ballot is given to each voter…

Ayala, the Democratic registrar of voters, said she is concerned “Someone forgot to do something” but “A lot of the forms were new to people.”

She suggested jammed ballots counted by the machine caused the discrepancy. “It will show as a ballot that went through. The ballot can stop going through and have to extracted,” Ayala said.

She said that while a flawed ballot would not be included in the number of votes recorded by the voting machine, it would show up in the machine’s count of total ballots run through. Joseph, the secretary of state’s spokesman, disagreed. When a ballot jams, a message flashes on the machine’s screen, Joseph said. If the ballot is counted, the message indicates so, and the ballot, along with its votes, is included on the machine’s tape, which tallies all votes and provides a total of the number of ballots successfully passed through the machine…

Besides problems in the number of votes versus voters, the newspaper found dozens of mistakes and errors in paperwork poll workers filled out. Those workers are required to add up the number of people who checked-in, along with the number of restorations and transfers. R&Ts are voters whose voting rights were restored at the polls or were transferred to a new polling place.

Only rarely were those numbers added up correctly. In fact, poll workers more often than not used the machine count of ballots as the check-in count. As a result, the paperwork, which is supposed to compare the machine count to a hand tally by poll workers, incorrectly reported a match between the number of people who voted and ballots that passed through the machine.

Many poll workers used pencils to cross off voters names as they checked in, a violation of election law. Pencil marks can be erased, which is why pens are mandated.

The good news in the article, if there is any is that:

  • The ConnPost is exposing the information
  • The Secretary of the State’s Office recognizes this as not being “usual”
  • The State Elections Enforcement Commission is investigating

What can we learn about our audit law?

  • As we have said the law should not exempt districts with challenges from audits. Because the primary was challenged in court, there was no audit of two very close primary elections in Bridgeport.
  • Audits should be comprehensive: All types of ballots should be audited and the audit should go beyond count votes and review the entire election documentation including check-off lists and moderator’s reports.

Where else are voting officials using pencils where pens are required? How often are procedures being violated? Do we accept 46% compliance?

We recommend reading the entire article there are more details we have not covered here.


3 responses to “Broken System: Bridgeport Primary Does Not Add Up”

  1. ct registrar

    This article raises more questions than it answers. What kind of cooperation or otherwise did the reporters get? Did the Registrar in Bridgeport assist, and why was there no comment by any election official, moderator or registrar, involved? Logic would assume that the names crossed off would exceed the tabulator total due to handcounted ballots, unless a lot of provisional ballots (Voter names not on the lists but later found to be eligible and counted) were cpounted after the election but not through the tabulator. Did the reporter check to see if there were any suplemental lists with additional names added and crossed of (Transfer ins)? Was there any chance that some absentee voters were not crossed off the lists.

    This in no way is to justify the irregularities, but leads to the cunumdrum of who audited the reporters? More to the point, is, what were the results of the actual audits performed after the primary in Bridgeport and did the state audited district results correspond to the Post audit districts. This comparison might be of use.

  2. Luther Weeks

    Thanks for blogging here. I agree that this article raises more questions than it answers. Perhaps we will learn more after the SEEC investigation or there will be some follow-up reports.

    A couple of points:

    1) There were comments in the article by an election official involved:

    “‘The vote is accurate. I’m really, really sure of that. Candidates were not affected by any of this,’ said Santa Ayala, the Democratic Registrar of Voters, who ran the election.”

    “Ayala conceded there were problems during the election, the first her office had run, and the first time the city used optical scan machines. She said future elections will run smoother.”

    2) Unfortunately there were no audits performed after the election. We select 10% of districts for audit after each election and primary. Some of the districts for this race were selected for audit, but one of the loopholes in the audit law is that districts subject to a contest in any race are entirely exempt from the audit…not only was the Mayoral Primary exempt but also another even closer race. Ironically, this lead to a failure to follow the law in than the mandated 10% of districts in the state to be audited — the Secretary of the State did not follow the law and select additional districts to audit to replace those in Bridgeport that became exempt because of the contest.

    3) If there had been audits the counting would have been supervised and performed by the same individuals that conducted the election. We would like to see a more independent audit.

    4) Also the audits need to be more comprehensive than the ones we have now. For instance, we only count the paper vs. the machine count. Our audits do not count any other type of ballot and they do not compare the checklists or the moderator’s report of the checklist to the totals.

    5) So, to your point that maybe some of the ballots were not the machine counted etc., if we had a total audit and accounting of all ballots cast in a district during audits then such error would be obvious.

    6) Hopefully the chain-of-custody of the ballots and moderator’s report etc. is such that the SEEC investigation will tell us more. However given the weak chain-of-custody procedures and history of not following those procedures the ability to reconstruct things at this point is questionable.

  3. The BRAD BLOG : 'Daily Voting News' For June 14 and 15, 2008

    […] CT: Broken System: Bridgeport Primary Does Not Add Up […]

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