Superior Court Judge A. Susan Peck called for an unprecedented second recount to be conducted next week in the 5th Assembly District race where one vote separates two Democrats.
Leo Canty of Windsor holds one vote advantage over his Democratic opponent, Brandon McGee of Hartford. McGee filed a lawsuit claiming irregularities with the first recount. More specially his lawsuit alleges Hartford election officials improperly counted absentee ballots in Hartford and lost a ballot in Windsor. The trial started two weeks ago.
When the polls closed on Aug. 14, Canty and McGee were tied. Canty wanted to go straight to a revote, but McGee called for a recount instead. When the first recount was completed Canty was up by one vote. The third candidate in the race, Windsor Mayor Don Trinks, came in a distant third place.
“I felt we needed to do this right away. If a recount can solve the case then it’s better than calling for a new election,” Peck told the parties Friday in Hartford Superior Court.
In Hartford officials will recount only the absentee ballots from the two polling places. Peck said she had no reason to doubt Hartford City Clerk John Bazzano when he testified that he delivered 79 absentee ballots to a Hartford polling place, but at the end of the evening on Aug. 14 were only 78.
“It appears, pretty persuasively, that if something happened to the ballot, it happened on election day,” Peck said Friday.
McGee’s attorney also argues that there was a ballot missing in Windsor because the tabulator counted 526 votes, but there were only 525 ballots counted during the recount. Windsor election officials have said a ballot could have accidentally misfired and been counted twice on Aug. 14.
“There’s no evidence of a misfire,” Peck said.
There were 523 names of voters crossed off the list at John F. Kennedy School in Windsor, 526 votes counted on election day, and 525 ballots counted during the recount.
“I have a missing vote in Windsor so I need to know if anything other than district 2 should be recounted?” she said.
Canty’s attorney Thomas McDonough attempted to clarify that there’s no evidence of a missing ballot in Windsor even if McGee lost a vote. But Peck said there’s also no evidence to explain what happened.
“I want to get to a fair solution,” Peck said. “I think we might as well do the whole thing,” she said referring to all three Windsor polling places.
Windsor will do a recount of the race Monday evening, and the absentee ballots in Hartford will be recounted on Tuesday.
All the parties agreed that Kevin Reynolds, an attorney for the Democratic State Central Committee, would act as a special master to the process and bring any discrepancies to the attention of the judge. Reynolds won’t have the power to decide voter intent for any questionable ballots.
“Nothing in this case alleges any misconduct,” Peck said.
The parties will reconvene after the recount in Hartford and Windsor on Wednesday.
“It has been our claim that two missing ballots – one in Hartford and one in Windsor – are the result of major discrepancies and lack of adherence to elections statutes and regulations following the primary election on August 14th,” McGee said in a statement Friday.
He’s hoping Peck orders a revote.
But ordering a revote would be even more unprecedented than a second recount, since the general election cycle has already begun. Military and overseas ballots need to be sent on Sept. 21, and absentee ballots need to be printed and ready for voters by Oct. 5, Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne told Peck Friday.
Peck acknowledged she was unaware of the tight deadlines, which Murphy Osborne suggested may call for a court order because without one registrars in the two towns whose hands are tied will be violating state and federal election laws.
Canty, who immediately called for a revote after the election ended in a tie, was quick to mention that if a revote had been conducted Sept. 4 the race would have likely been settled without lawyers and a second recount.
Peck also presided over a recount dispute in 2010 when a recount showed then-Hartford Councilman Matt Ritter, beating state Rep. Ken Green. Green file a lawsuit claiming irregularities with the recount, but Peck ruled from the bench on Sept. 9 claiming there weren’t any substantial violations of election law.