Two weeks after election, Bridgeport voters still frustrated

Still reeling from an Election Day marred by confusion and chaos, Bridgeport voters got their chance Tuesday night to share firsthand accounts of what went wrong Nov. 2.

“I was embarrassed as an elected official,” said Bob Walsh, a Bridgeport City Council member. “I had no idea what was going on all day, because there were all sorts of rumors: ballots are being printed, ballots are on their way, ballots are here soon.”

Confusion and frustration were the themes as voters testified of ballot shortages and disenfranchisement in front of a commission appointed by Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.

“I’m tired of hearing, ‘There goes Bridgeport again,'” said former Mayor Nick Panuzio, who heads the commission. “But I don’t want to hear a lot of blame tonight. We want to hear solutions, we want to hear if you had any problems, and what you experienced.”

Attorneys Richard Bieder and Edwin Farrow, former CEO of Bridgeport Hospital Robert Trefry and Rosa Correa round out the commission. They’ll examine the elections process and make recommendations to the Mayor’s office.

“It seems to me the secretary of state should have been down here within an hour of hearing there was a shortage of ballots,” said Bridgeport resident Nancy Hadley. “And I do think the registrar of voters should resign.”

Nearly 100 people attended the Town Hall meeting, held at the City Hall Annex. People took turns at the microphone in an atmosphere of civility. But they certainly didn’t hold back.

“The most dangerous thing in Bridgeport politics is rumor,” said former state Sen. Rob Russo, speaking in front of the panel. “And so we need a full audit. We need to prove to the people of Bridgeport what happened. We can’t just leave them with rumors.”

Russo, along with about 15 others, shared experiences. The stories were similar and distressing: voters turned away at the polls, badly trained election workers and a system that failed to adequately respond to problems that many Tuesday night said could be avoided.

Two weeks after the election, the story of what happened in Bridgeport that day has emerging, though still blurred. Certain voting districts ran out of ballots in the early afternoon, prompting the registrars of voters to request additional official ballots, which were printed and delivered later in the day.

Registrars were also told by the office of Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz to begin photocopying ballots at the city’s print shop, which were then counted into packets of 100 each. Police officers delivered photocopies in batches.

“We needed more than 100 ballots at a time,” said state Sen. Ed Gomes, who was at Wilbur Cross High School that day.

A timely visit from President Obama likely pushed voter turnout far above expectations, though some said the registrars should have been prepared. “Obama was here the weekend before the election and the registrar only ordered 20,000 ballots?” said Tom Lombard. Lombard, along with at least three others, called for the Registrars to resign.

The registrars ordered 21,000 ballots for the election. There are 69,000 registered voters in the city.

Because of the shortage, a judge ordered certain polling places to stay open two hours past schedule, until 10 p.m. About 500 extra votes were cast during this time.

According to the mayor’s office, overworked moderators and poll workers counted votes, the photocopied ones by hand, into the morning of Friday, Nov. 5. There were reports of uncounted and unsupervised ballots, as well as incorrect tallies.

Some Town Hall participants Tuesday evening said the ballots should be counted again, while others called for an overhaul of the entire system.

Carolyn Vermont, chairwoman of the Bridgeport Chapter of the NAACP, came to the meeting to represent her members. “We received a number of calls from voters who had serious problems,” she said. “They just weren’t sure if their votes were being counted.”

“Voting is a right, not a privilege,” she said. “As a woman, we had to fight for that right. As a black person, we had to fight for that right. And we shouldn’t take that lightly.”