Waiting for Bridgeport: Slow count delays declaration of next governor until Friday

An updated tally of votes from New Haven on Thursday virtually assured that Democrat Dan Malloy will be declared the state’s next governor, but delays in obtaining official returns from Bridgeport will keep the secretary of the state from pronouncing a victor until Friday.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said at 6 p.m. that Bridgeport is unlikely to have its results officially tallied until late Thursday night, causing her to wait until tomorrow to accept the results of the last municipality in Connecticut to count its votes.

At 3:15 p.m. she had announced that she believes Bridgeport’s count was complete and a moderators’s report, as the official count is known, was being prepared in the presence of lawyers for Malloy and Republican nominee Tom Foley.

“We are as anxious as you are to receive those results,” she said. According to state law, all results were due to her office by 6 p.m., Wednesday.

Bysiewicz relied on telephone updates from Bridgeport, as her office sent no one to the city to monitor the situation. She directed all blame for the delays to Bridgeport.

“We have a decentralized system of elections. And the way it is set up, the secretary of the state advises and assists the registrars of voters that are elected by the citizens. In the city of Bridgeport’s case, there are two elections officials,” she said. “I am doing my job, and I am waiting for the registrars to do their jobs in Bridgeport.”

City officials did not begin to prepare their moderator’s report until 3 p.m., she said.

Nearly every election, a few municipalities miss the deadline for filing their official results with the state, but the delays rarely, if ever, have delayed the declaration of a winner in a statewide race.

The secretary of the state’s web site listed results for every town but Bridgeport late this afternoon. For governor, it shows Malloy with 548,378 votes, Foley with 556,787 and Independent Tom Marsh with 17,543.

An unofficial tally from 15 of Bridgeport’s 25 precincts showed Malloy leading Foley by 12,646 votes in the city, which would put him more than 4,000 ahead of Foley statewide. The rest of Bridgeport’s results should only increase the margin.

Until the towns report, the state has no means to gather results. On election night, the news media rely on the Associated Press, which dispatches poll watchers to every community to gather results, and the campaigns themselves.

The Associated Press called the race for Malloy on Wednesday, then retracted its declaration Wednesday night and noted that its incomplete results had Foley with an 8,000-vote lead. That was at odds with Bysiewicz’s statement at midday that Malloy appeared to be the winner by at least 3,103 votes.

Today, the registrars of voters in New Haven released results showing 22,298 votes for Malloy and 3,685 votes for Foley, which appears to make Malloy the next governor. AP later issued a new tally showing Malloy with a 6,240-vote lead.

“This morning, we were glad to see that the Associated Press updated their election results to show our campaign ahead by 6,240 votes,” said Dan Kelly, Malloy’s campaign manager. “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.”

The secretary of the state’s office said this afternoon it had complete election results for every municipality, except Bridgeport. It announced at 2 p.m. that the results will be released during a press conference in the Old Appropriations or Old Judiciary rooms of the State Capitol some time after 3 p.m.

But at 3 p.m., an aide to Bysiewicz cautioned that an announcement might have to wait until Friday.

Late last night, Malloy’s camp said they were confident that Malloy would be the winner, once the New Haven numbers were reported.

“We are aware what the AP is reporting, and we’re confident they’re wrong,” Kelly said then. “Their numbers for New Haven are wrong, and they’re leaving out a significant number of votes in Bridgeport. We remain confident that we are ahead by more than enough votes to avoid a recount.”

Bysiewicz had been expected to declare Malloy the winner–again–at a press conference today. Originally scheduled for noon, it was repeatedly pushed back through the afternoon before being scrapped altogether.

Foley’s campaign asked her to delay. Foley’s running mate, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, told reporters Thursday afternoon that there was no need to declare a winner while vote counts were still in flux. He said there were discrepancies between the campaign’s numbers and those posted on the secretary of the state’s website, some of which he said were changed Thursday afternoon.

“Let’s take our time folks, let’s slow down a little bit, let’s get it right,” said Boughton, who expressed concern about Bridgeport workers who had been up for 36 hours and were counting ballots.

Bysiewicz spokesman Av Harris said the office had two teams double-checking and triple-checking vote totals Thursday and corrected figures on the website as necessary. The final corrections were made at noon or shortly after, he said, and everything on the website reflected up-to-date figures.

Malloy’s campaign said Bysiewicz should handle the gubernatorial results as she does all others.

“This race should not be treated differently than any other race in Connecticut–once the Secretary of State is comfortable making the numbers for all the towns official and posting them online, she should do so,” Kelly said.

Malloy, 55, the former mayor of Stamford, would be the 88th governor of Connecticut, succeeding Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. He would take office with the closest margin of victory since Abraham Ribicoff in 1954 and be the first Democrat to win since William A. O’Neill in 1986.

On Wednesday, Malloy smiled at the comparison, calling Ribicoff, who later became a cabinet secretary under John F. Kennedy and a U.S. senator, a fine governor and role model. And he announced his first appointment: chief of staff Tim Bannon, who was an aide and commissioner to O’Neill.

But the controversy over the gubernatorial election is likely to continue beyond today, thanks in large measure to a chaotic day of voting in Bridgeport, where 12 of 23 polling places ran out of scannable paper ballots. Some voters were turned away, others cast votes on photocopied ballots that had to be hand-counted.

A judge issued an emergency order that extended the hours of voting from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m., a move that Republicans contested. An estimated 500 ballots were cast during the extended hours, and they were ordered to be counted separately, in case an appeals court rendered them invalid.

But barring further surprises, Malloy seems to have a victory without the 500 ballots. In fact, his victory margin appears to be well above the 2,000 plurality that would require an automatic recount.

Foley could go to court to seek a new count of the photocopied ballots in Bridgeport that were counted by hand, not by the optical scanners that count the regular ballots. Even that seems a longshot, since Malloy’s present lead does not include 10 precincts in Bridgeport.

“We are prepared for every eventuality,” Republican State Chairman Chris Healy said today. “We are prepared to explore whether we think a significant number of ballots were tainted or the process improperly administered, if that could have affected the voting.”

Every municipality was required to report its totals to the secretary of the state’s office by last night, and the results were being tabulated today. Bridgeport, which was forced to hand count thousands of ballots, was the only city that failed to file its complete numbers.

“We believe that Mr. Malloy has won,” Bysiewicz said Wednesday. “It appears that way from the unofficial results.”

The secretary, a Middletown Democrat, said she remained confident making that announcement even though more than 1,500 absentee ballots from New Haven and Bridgeport still hadn’t been counted and reported to her office yet.

That’s because Malloy won the machine vote tally by more than 17,600 in New Haven and by more than 12,600 in Bridgeport; absentee results tend to follow similar trends. That would mean Malloy’s margin is certain to grow.

Foley said Wednesday he nonetheless believes he won the election by a small margin and that his campaign would try to reconcile the competing figures with the secretary of the state’s office.

“We show ourselves as slightly up,” Foley told reporters at his Stamford campaign office at an early-afternoon press conference. “We have to reconcile what the correct number is.”

Foley said his campaign’s figures showed him ahead by less than 2,000 votes, a small enough margin to require a recount. He said his campaign has gotten the vote counts directly from cities and towns, and that his figures aligned with those reported earlier by the Associated Press.

“The future of Connecticut is…at stake in this election, and it’s simply too important for the voters to not make sure that the election results are actually the votes that were cast,” he said.

Foley declined to discuss possible legal challenges or whether Bridgeport’s extended voting affected the outcome, saying it would be premature before the vote totals were reconciled.

Foley added he has not spoken with Malloy since the polls closed.