BRIDGEPORT — Some said Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes was vulnerable this year because President Obama wasn’t on the ticket.
But it seems that the President’s rally for Himes in Bridgeport—just three days before the election—may have paid huge dividends. Just as it did in 2008, the city once again provided Himes with his largest margin of victory as he just barely held off his Republican challenger, state Sen. Dan Debicella, in the 4th Congressional District by 490 out of a total of 173,212 votes cast.
But unlike 2008, this year’s race provided a lot more drama. A number of districts in Bridgeport did not have enough ballots on hand, and election officials were photocopying ballots, “which, under Connecticut law, is permissible,” a Himes spokesperson said.
“Any voter that goes to a polling location must be allowed to cast his or her vote,” Himes spokeswoman Elizabeth Kerr said. Then it was announced that Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger issued a court order, which was contested by the state Republican Party, to keep 11 polling locations in Bridgeport open until 10 p.m. to give voters a chance to vote.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, in attendance at Himes’ campaign victory party at the Holiday Inn on Main Street, said “Judge Berger took a courageous step by issuing a court order to ensure that everyone’s vote in the district counted.” Finch noted that it was “sheer incompetence on the part of the Bridgeport Registrar’s office” that contributed to only 21,000 ballots being distributed in the district, despite a record 2008 election turnout of 40,000 voters, and 69,000 registered in the city.
Bridgeport NAACP chairwoman Carolyn Vermont visited Bridgeport Central High School, one of the polling locations without enough ballots, and said she spoke to several voters who had complaints. She said one woman who claimed to have voted in 2008 was told she wasn’t registered. Another voter went to several polling locations because of the ballot shortage.
As a result, Vermont noted that the national office of the NAACP, regardless of the results, would conduct an investigation to learn why there was a ballot shortfall.
Vermont said some voters at Central High School suggested to her that they felt there was a conspiracy to deny their vote. “People died for the right to vote, and we have to investigate this matter to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Vermont said.
Voters began to stream into the lobby of the Holiday Inn and one said she voted at 6:15 a.m. without incident. But she noted that two family members waited for more than an hour at Florence Blackham school for additional ballots to arrive. Another voter said she voted at Harding High School without incident, but had a brother who waited for 30 minutes to receive his ballot photocopy.
Just when it seemed there would be a long night ahead of hand-counting photocopy ballots, Debicella surprisingly conceded the race to Himes 40 minutes after the polls closed. Himes’ staff and volunteers were jubilant as Himes entered the room to walk up the stage to give his victory speech. He had appeared two times before the victory speech to stress to voters in the district that “it’s very important for your vote to be cast.”
With his family by his side, Himes congratulated his staff and volunteers for working tirelessly during the campaign, thanked Debicella because “our system of government relies on representatives being tested.”