Thomas MacMillan Photo

(Updated) Over the objections of the Tom Foley for Governor Campaign, Amy Espinosa cut the seal to a previously undisclosed bag of ballots at 9 p.m. Thursday, and, two days after polls closed, a team of tired Bridgeport poll workers started counting. The fate of Connecticut’s suddenly nuclear election for governor hung in the balance.

The bag of uncounted ballots emerged in Bridgeport Thursday evening as officials engaged in an after-deadline count of votes—a count that will determine who is Connecticut’s next governor. The whole state is waiting on their count so Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz can declare a winner in the paper-thin election between Foley and Democrat Dan Malloy. According to unofficial counts, Foley was leading statewide in the election, but Bridgeport is expected to provide a margin of victory for Malloy.

Just when you thought this election year couldn’t get any stranger, a startling discovery was announced earlier Thursday evening outside the Bridgeport government building where overtime vote-counting is taking place to determine the winner of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election: that officials in Bridgeport had neglected to mention that they had had a bag full of uncounted ballots stowed away.

A voting registrar offered an explanation—and Tom Foley called for the cops.

The 335 ballots apparently came from the John F. Kennedy Campus School in Bridgeport, one of the places people went to vote in Tuesday’s election; Amy Espinosa was the moderator at the polling place.

Bridgeport missed a legal deadline to finish counting its votes at 6 p.m. Wednesday. It’s still counting votes late into Thursday night. When they finish, Connecticut may finally find out whether Republican Foley or Democrat Dan Malloy is the state’s next chief elected official.

A tired worker responsible for counting ballots at the JFK School polling place she apparently went home after Tuesday night’s elections before the work was done. Only on Thursday night—when, because of a whole bunch of mistakes and problems in Bridgeport’s vote, officials were still busy working on an official tally—did the existence of the bag of uncounted ballots left behind become known.

Chris Covucci, Foley’s state field director, was present as Amy Espinosa opened the bag Thursday night. He objected to the decision to count these ballots. He said they should be taken to a neutral place and counted by a third party.

“We don’t know where they’ve been,” he said.

City attorney Mark Anastasi overruled him and allowed the counting to proceed. It appeared that almost all the votes were for Democrats, including Malloy.

“These ballots are getting extraordinary scrutiny,” Anastasi said.

A Revelation

An attorney for the Foley campaign first revealed the existence of the ballots in an impromptu press conference outside McLevy Hall earlier on Thursday.

Richard Albrecht of Bridgeport, the Foley attorney, said Foley staffers were approached around 6 p.m. by Art Laske, Bridgeport’s assistant city attorney. Laske told them there’s a “bag of ballots” somewhere in the building that have not been counted yet, according to Albrecht.

Democratic officials—whom he wouldn’t name—wanted the Foley campaign to deputize someone to help count the ballots, according to Albrecht. But the Foley campaign refused, saying it was an improper procedure.

The Foley representatives present at the press conference said they have not seen the bag.

“It’s like Palm Beach County all over again,” Albrecht said.

Thomas MacMillan Photo
Registrar Borges: A tired moderator went home without finishing (Thomas MacMillan Photo)

Bridgeport Republican Registrar of Voters Joe Borges confirmed in an interview that moderator Espinosa went home without finishing counting after the election Tuesday night. She left behind the bag of photocopied ballots—facsimiles of official ballots that Bridgeport gave to voters after real ballots ran out.

The bag contained 335 ballots. Officials had kept it sealed and say they knew of its existence.

Borges quoted Espinosa as saying she was going home Tuesday night “because of the late hour.”

“I can’t do it. I’m tired. I’ve got to go to work” the next day, he quoted her as saying.

Laske himself later issued a statement calling it “ completely irresponsible for counsel for the Foley campaign to mischaracterize this part of the process to the media, and to assert that any impropriety exists with regard to these ballots, which have been secured since they were cast, and their existence has been fully disclosed to the parties and to the public.”

Tom Foley called for the state police to come into the picture.

“In the process of counting ballots in Bridgeport today, a bag of photocopied ballots was apparently discovered that had not been included in any previous count,” he said in a statement. “It is unclear where these ballots originated, where they have been for the last two days and whether they are valid ballots. This is a very serious matter and the state police should immediately impound them until their origin, chain of custody and
validity is determined.”

“This is not some mystery bag of ballots that appeared out of thin air,” said William Beccaro, a lawyer affiliated with Bridgeport’s city attorney’s office who also works for the state Senate Democrats. He said there’s an “chain of custody” for the bag since the election; people knew where it was at all times.

Democratic Registrar of Voters Santa “Sandi” Ayala waxed practically poetic as she flatly denied the charge of uncounted ballots.

“There is no bag missing,” said Ayala, who was reelected to her position Tuesday. “No bag has been found, because there is no bag missing. There’s no bag, so there’s no bag to find. Any bag used in this election has been properly sealed under lock and key. Everything will be done in the light of night. I really don’t care what they are saying on TV and radio. The Republican registrar and I are on the same page. There are no bags missing or found.”

“What they are referring to is JFK” (Campus School, a voting precinct). “I’m not going into particulars. JFK will be fully counted before final tallies are done.”

How long will that be?

It could well be several hours, election officials said.

Secretary of the State Bysiewicz issued a statement around 6:30 p.m. Thursday stating that official returns for the statewide election won’t be released tonight after all. That means whether or not Bridgeport finishes counting, Connecticut won’t officially know the name of its new governor until at least Friday.

“At approximately 5:00 p.m., our office learned from the Registrar of Voters’ office in Bridgeport that it may take several more hours for the Head Moderator to complete the return from Election Day.  By law, this document was required by law to be delivered to our office by 6:00 p.m. yesterday.  As such, we do not anticipate receiving any completed return from Bridgeport this evening,” the statement read.

“In the interest of transparency and open government, we feel it is very important that this return from Bridgeport be processed during normal business hours when any member of the public can observe the submission of this important document. ”

That revelation was the latest in a topsy-turvy day in which, by the hour, Connecticut thought it would learn who its next governor will be.

Inside Room 103

Thomas MacMillan photo
The scene from Bridgeport’s McLevy Hall (Thomas MacMillan photo)

As Bysiewicz noted, all local registrars of voters were by law supposed to report official voting returns to her office by 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Bridgeport wasn’t done counting. It’s still not done counting.

This evening they’re counting and counting, slowly.

Six registrar office employees are sitting around a table in Room 103 of McLevy Hall, a government building named after the late Socialist Party mayor (of the 1930s pragamtic “sewer socialism” era) who lost his job after he reported remarked in reference to a snowstorm: “God put the snow there. Let him take it away.”

Bridgeport’s Democratic and Republican registrars are overseeing them.

At any given time, three different video cameras are running. Six to eight reporters and about same number of representatives of the Foley and Malloy campaigns watch over, like hawks, as the officials walk through the numbers one by one.

They are going precinct by precinct, adding up two sets of numbers: tallies from voting machines; and tallies from Xeroxed facsimiles of ballots that Bridgeport had to use Tuesday when the city ran out of real ballots.

In Room 103, it’s a double check system. One person reads a number. Others use old-school electronic adding machines with paper print-outs.

Brenda Young, one of the workers, said she started working the election at 5 a.m. Tuesday. She worked all night, then through Wednesday; she didn’t go home until 9 p.m. Wednesday. Then she returned on Thursday.

Earlier On Thursday…

YouTube video
As Connecticut’s Florida 2000-like election drama continues, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz postponed a noon press conference—and a 3 p.m. press conference—to announce the official winner of the governor’s race.

She said she could not predict when Bridgeport will have official numbers.

“I know you are anxious,” Bysiewicz said. “We’re just as anxious as you are.” (Click on the play arrow above to watch her mini-press conference.)

Bysiewicz’s 3:20 p.m. statement followed a series of missteps by her office, which first announced that it would have an official announcement at noon on Thursday. That was postponed, and at 1:55 p.m. a spokesman emailed reporters a message that the announcement was re-scheduled to “at least 3:00 p.m.”

The 3 p.m. presser was delayed as the state waits on vote counting in Bridgeport, where a review of precinct results is underway.

That review began this afternoon in Bridgeport, according to Lennie Grimaldi of the news website Only In Bridgeport. Grimaldi reports that local elections officials in Bridgeport are reviewing each of the city’s 25 precincts’ elections results to produce a final citywide number. The count was pushed back so that officials could catch up on sleep, Grimaldi reports.

The review of ballots in Bridgeport did not start until after 2 p.m. according to the registrar’s office. Bysiewicz said in her announcement that the review began at 3 p.m., after workers took a break.

Bysiewicz told reporters on Thursday afternoon that her office had posted official election results from 168 towns on the Secretary of the State website.

Those numbers show that Foley leads Malloy by 8,409 votes—not including results from Bridgeport.

The state is just waiting now on Bridgeport, Bysiewicz said.

“I cannot compel Bridgeport to prepare their return and give it to us,” Bysiewicz said. She said that Bridgeport is in violation of a state statute that required all towns to turn in their official election results by 6 p.m.—yesterday. “They obviously didn’t follow the statute.”

Larger cities tend to take more time to crunch their numbers, she said.

“I am doing my job,” Bysiewicz said. “I’m just waiting for the registrars to do their job in Bridgeport.”

“We don’t have an announcement imminent,” she said. “Because we don’t know when Bridgeport will finish doing what they need to do.”

Meanwhile, the blame game started in earnest. Bysiewicz blamed Bridgeport for not getting official numbers in on time. (They were due at 6 p.m. Wednesday.) Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch distanced himself from suggestions that he was trying to save money by not ordering enough ballots for Tuesday’s election; Bridgeport ran out, having printed enough for roughly only a third of his city’s registered voters.

“I want to be clear: At no time did the City ask that the Registrar spend less money to purchase ballots,” Finch said in a statement released at 5:46 p.m. Thursday. “We would never let money stand in the way of ensuring that every voter have the chance to exercise his or her inalienable right to vote in a free democracy. For the Registrars to even think of using that as an excuse for causing such distress for so many of our residents is indefensible and inexcusable.”

At 3:49 p.m., the Malloy campaign responded to Bysiewicz’s statement in a brief email message: “Since early Wednesday morning we have said we’re 100 percent confident that when the final vote is certified, Dan Malloy will be declared the winner by a margin comfortably outside what is necessary to trigger a recount. Nothing that’s happened since has changed that.”

Connecticut does not conduct full recounts in which every ballot is inspected by hand and the candidates have an opportunity to object or accept each ballot. Instead, the state does what’s called a “re-canvass,” in which ballots are fed back through the machines and absentees are counted by hand.

According to Luther Weeks of CT Voters Count, the re-canvass law was never changed when Connecticut switched from the old lever voting machines to the new optical-scan machines. Instead of reading the numbers off the back of the lever machines and counting the absentees by hand, the ballots are run again through the optical-scan machines.

Ball Of Confusion

Bysiewicz earlier Wednesday “unofficially” crowned Democrat Dan Malloy the winner, the first Democrat to at least “unofficially” win the office since 1986.

Republican Tom Foley, not surprisingly, didn’t appreciate an “unofficial” declaration by the state’s top official. (Shades of Katherine Harris?) He says his internal numbers show him winning. He may file a challenge if Bysiewicz makes her declaration official later Thursday.

And Thursday afternoon his campaign called on Bysiewicz to postpone any more announcements for now.

Malloy declared victory and named transition team leaders—even though New Haven hadn’t yet produced official numbers. (It ended up releasing those official numbers to the Independent as Malloy spoke, shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, 20 hours after the polls had closed.)

Meanwhile, the trusted Associated Press added to the confusion. First it declared Malloy the winner Wednesday. Then it “withdrew” that announcement—and late Wednesday said its internal count showed Foley the winner.

However, those numbers from the AP left out over 10,000 votes cast for Malloy in New Haven. Foley’s forces declared victory again. What made that mistake particularly odd is that New Haven numbers were now publicly available; the Independent story was making the rounds of the Internet and political and media circles. As late as mid-morning Thursday, AP was still reporting the Foley victory and leaving out more than half the New Haven votes.

AP revised its numbers late Thursday morning and proclaimed Malloy the winner again. Bysiewicz promised the noon press conference to make it official—then, inexplicably canceled. Her communications director, Av Harris, released the follow statement: “This is to inform you that Secretary Bysiewicz’s planned news conference at her office at the state capitol originally scheduled for noon has been postponed until later this afternoon.  As soon as we know when, we will let you know.”

Most projections now show Malloy leading by well more than the 2,000 threshold below which an automatic recount is triggered. New Haven’s and Bridgeport’s vote-pullers lifted him over the top. Read about the New Haven vote-pulling effort here.

“We have full confidence that, while the numbers will likely fluctuate throughout the day, the totals will show Dan Malloy beating Tom Foley well outside the margin necessary to trigger a recount,” state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo stated in a release Thursday.

Not so fast, Foley campaign manager said in a release distributed at 12:53 p.m. Thursday. It read:

“Tom Foley contacted the Secretary of the State’s office this morning to request that any further announcements of election results for the governor’s race be postponed until the results are certain and discrepancies between The Secretary of the State’s office, the Tom Foley for Governor campaign, and the media, are reconciled. In the last twenty-four hours alone, Bridgeport has revised downward the number of votes cast for Dan Malloy by over 3,500. Other cities and towns are likely to revise their results in the days ahead. We understand that Susan Bysiewicz plans to announce this afternoon that their results of the Gubernatorial election are official. We have sent the Secretary of the State’s office a letter requesting that she not refer to her preliminary results of the election as “official” until the results are unlikely to be amended.”