Bridgeport runs out of ballots; key races could be affected

A Superior Court judge extended voting hours in some Bridgeport polling places until 10 p.m. after officials ran out of ballots in the Democratic linchpin city, whose votes could be decisive to the chances of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, and gubernatorial nominee Dan Malloy.

The registrars of voters dispatched police officers with hastily photocopied ballots during the day, but some voters left without voting, one official said. Photocopied ballots can be used in an emergency, but they must be counted by hand, which means that Bridgeport tallies could be late tonight.

“It’s going to be a late evening in Bridgeport,” Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said.

Chris Healy, the Republican state chairman, said the GOP objected to the polls staying open.

Bysiewicz said that Bridgeport’s registrars of voters ordered 21,000 ballots for a city with 69,000 voters. She said her advice to municipalities is to order one for each voter, plus extras.

Judge Marshall K. Berger ordered extended the hours shortly before they were to close at 8 p.m. City officials used a “reverse 911” system to send recorded calls to every household, notifying them they had two more hours to vote.

The order applied only to the 12 precincts that ran out of ballots. The city has 23 polling places.

Democrats initiated the court action, joined by lawyers for the state, Bysiewicz said.

Officials in both parties reacted with disbelief as word spread about the ballot shortage.

“You gotta order enough ballots. It’s like Democracy 101,” said Mark Boughton, the Danbury mayor and Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.

Rep. Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport, said he was at the Read School polling place in a Democratic district when officials ran out of ballots during the afternoon.

“We counted 47 voters that were turned away and just left,” Caruso said.”This is unbelievable and a travesty.”

At a polling place in the Black Rock neighborhood, 200 voters were waiting in line for ballots, Caruso said. A Republican elections official suggested they go home until ballots arrived, he said.

Adam Wood, the chief of staff to Mayor Bill Finch, said Bridgeport was one of 10 municipalities that ran out or were running low on ballots.

“It’s not confined to Bridgeport,” he said.

But Av Harris, a spokesman for the secretary of the state’s office, said that while some other communities ran low at times, including Hartford, none ran out. Ballots are ordered by local registrars and printed and provided by the secretary of the state’s office.

The gaffe could add confusion and drama to one of the state’s closely watched elections: the effort by a freshman, Himes, to win re-election. Without a heavy vote in Bridgeport, Himes is expected to lose. Malloy also needs significant support from Bridgeport and other Democratic cities.

President Obama visited Bridgeport on Saturday and former President Bill Clinton led a rally Sunday in Norwalk to help get out the vote for Himes.

At least 10 polling places in Bridgeport were without ballots late in the afternoon, Woods said.

The registrar of voters’ office is independent of the mayor’s office, and Wood said he was unsure how the shortage occurred, though turnout was high for a mid-term election.

In addition to the photocopied ballots, which cannot be counted by the optical scanning machines and must be counted by hand, the secretary of the state’s office was sending more ballots to the city.

Caruso said the registrar’s office sent over photocopied ballots in bunches of 100, but they quickly ran out.

“The turnout was so high,” he said. But he also faulted the registrars for having insufficient ballots.

The secretary of the state’s office, he said, recommends ordering twice as many ballots as the anticipated need.

“They didn’t honor that,” he said.