Election audit power lacking

Election audit power lacking

One Connecticut town with four amended election results reported to the Secretary of the State showing large fluctuations in vote totals – what’s wrong with this picture?

Nov. 4 wasn’t the first instance of election night agita in Cheshire. The town is often the last to tabulate results in this area, at times with a glitch or two affecting the totals. This year, problems with a spreadsheet, same-day voter registration and complications created by optical-scan voting machines were apparently too much to handle.

Because of the tight race in the 13th Senate District, which includes a portion of Cheshire (as well as Meriden, Middlefield and part of Middletown), Cheshire officials filed multiple amended returns with the state, essentially updating the public and the two candidates on their progress in sorting through the results due to high interest in the close election. But that did little to reassure anyone since the vote totals increased by more than 1,000 for each candidate from the first set of amended returns to the last, calling the integrity of the election into question.

The obvious solution would be a recount or an audit. But while incumbent Democrat Dante Bartolomeo’s margin of victory over Republican Len Suzio was reduced from 614 to 234, it was still 84 votes shy of triggering an automatic recount. And unfortunately Secretary of the State Denise Merrill says she lacks the legal authority to call for a recount or conduct an audit. A court order would be required for a recount and only individual voting precincts selected at random are subject to post-election audits.

That’s part of the problem.

When the numbers fluctuate as wildly as they did in Cheshire, it should be within state election officials’ discretion to audit the results, preferably by city or town.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano wrote to Merrill last week asking for an audit of the entire district “to lay to rest concerns about the validity of the results,” but a spokesman for her office said the secretary’s hands were tied.

“We share their frustration,” Av Harris told a Record-Journal reporter. “It’s not the first time that results have changed by more than just a few votes out of Cheshire.”

The audit of a single randomly selected Cheshire voting precinct should be interesting to watch, but the state must have broader authority when there’s cause to question how an election was administered.

Bartolomeo’s campaign manager Mildred Torres-Ferguson, also the Meriden Democratic town chairwoman, said an audit wasn’t needed in a letter to the editor last week because precinct-by-precinct numbers hadn’t changed and were reflected in the final results. But public confidence would increase if that could be independently verified by the state through an audit in light of the multiple amended returns and large fluctuations in totals.

Suzio says he hopes the issue can be addressed through legislative changes.

“I don’t want to prolong this any longer,” he told the Record-Journal. “I hope that some good comes out of this by some legislation that will really solve the shortcomings of the process that have become pretty evident by this experience.”

I agree.

Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or ecotton@record-journal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3.


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