BRIDGEPORT – This city finished Connecticut’s long and contentious count for governor shortly before dawn today, giving Democrat Dan Malloy a more than 5,000-vote statewide margin of victory over Republican Tom Foley.

The tally that Mayor Bill Finch announced after 6 a.m. in the lobby of the City Hall Annex is more than double the margin Malloy needed to avoid an automatic, statewide recount. The announcement followed an all-night review of the city’s returns and a count of 336 ballots that had been set aside Tuesday.

bridgeport counts votes

Bridgeport registrar Sandi Ayala, center, and moderator Amy Ramirez with bag of ballots (Mark Pazniokas)

“There are no hanging chads here. Every ballot was counted,” Finch said.

Finch said Malloy had 17,800 votes in Bridgeport to 4,075 for Foley, but the registrars of voters’ office amended the tally and eventually reported to the state that Malloy had 17,973 votes and Foley had 4,099.

The totals announced by Finch did not include ballots cast after 8 p.m., pursuant to a judge’s order keeping the polls open until 10 p.m. Those ballots still were being counted as Finch met the press. The court order came after the city ran out of ballots, causing some voters to be turned away from the polls.

(Friday evening, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz released the “official” results, which showed Malloy beating Foley, 566,498 to 560,861 — a 5,637-vote difference. Independent Tom Marsh had 17,586. But those numbers could still change if municipalities submit amended returns.)

“This is not exactly the way we would like to see things done in Bridgeport,” Finch said.

The city scrambled to produce additional ballots on photocopying machines, allowing voting to resume on election day after varying delays on Tuesday.

“We reacted swiftly, so that every vote was counted,” Finch said.

As Finch spoke to reporters, elections officials across the street were concluding their official report for the secretary of the state’s office. It was to be speeded by police to Hartford, where Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz will declare Malloy the winner later today.

Malloy, 55, will be Connecticut’s 88th governor and the winner of the closest gubernatorial election since Abraham Ribicoff’s victory in 1954.

“We’ve been confident that Dan Malloy and Nancy Wyman would be declared the winners. We’ll wait for the Secretary of the State to make it official, and will then have more to say,” Dan Kelly, Malloy’s campaign manager, said in an emailed statement.

Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo watched Finch’s announcement. It was not how she expected to see the first Democratic gubernatorial victory since 1986, when William A. O’Neill won re-election to his last term as governor.

“The Democratic Party has always been an interesting and diverse party,” DiNardo said, smiling. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m happy at the outcome.”

Chris Covucci, the field director for the Foley campaign, stepped to the microphone after Finch spoke and told reporters he believes there are inconsistencies in the city’s results, but he declined to comment on what recourse the campaign might pursue.

Foley met with reporters in Hartford Friday morning and said a recount might be necessary to obtain accurate results, although he would not say if the campaign would pursue legal action to get it.

The last 336 uncounted ballots for governor were unsealed late Thursday night in a crowded, overheated conference room, witnessed by the press, the merely curious and clench-jawed observers for Malloy and  Foley.

The Foley campaign had cried foul at the “discovery” of a bag of uncounted ballots taken Tuesday night from the polling place at JFK School, but city officials said the ballots had been carefully sealed and stored until opened for all to see in a municipal building named for Jasper McLevy, the late Socialist mayor.

The story of the uncounted ballots is unconventional–like much of the last two days and nights in the quest to determine the winner of Connecticut’s closest gubernatorial race in 56 years.

Start with the early hours of Wednesday, when Malloy and Foley both told their respective supporters that they believed they had won. Tens of thousands of ballots from several communities remained uncounted at that point. The candidates went to bed.

Around noon on Wednesday, Bysiewicz announced that Malloy was the unofficial winner, based on unofficial results. Foley’s camp protested, saying unofficial pronouncements were not in the brief of the state’s chief elections officer.

Malloy and Foley both named people to head their transition teams.

The Associated Press, on which the state’s news media rely for election returns, called the race for Malloy. Hours later, the AP uncalled it, saying its numbers showed Foley ahead by some 8,000 votes.

Then New Haven released figures showing that the AP had undercounted Malloy’s margin in the city by more than 10,000 votes. Advantage Malloy again. But where were the Bridgeport votes?

Bysiewicz scheduled a news conference to announce the gubernatorial winner-again–at noon. Then it was 1 p.m., then 3 p.m. At 6, her office said the Bridgeport numbers weren’t coming, and there would be no announcement until Friday.

Meanwhile, the Foley campaign was urging Bysiewicz to hold off on any announcement and raising alarms about possible voting irregularities — including the bag of 336 ballots in Bridgeport.

But Bridgeport officials insisted there was nothing nefarious in the handling of the  ballots, which were photocopies used by voters after the city ran out of the scannable paper ballots. The photocopied ballots must be counted by hand, a task that should have occurred Tuesday night.

One of the officials at JFK was pregnant and fell ill  after the polls closed, creating a quandary. They couldn’t be counted without her as a witness, so they were placed in an envelope and sealed with tape. The envelope was then placed in a black canvas bag and sealed with a numbered metal tag.

Sandi Ayala, the Democratic registrar of voters, said the election officials maintained a chain of custody, transporting the bag to the registrar’s office in the presence of a police officer.

“They were here, under lock and key,” Ayala said.

Not missing and not found, she said.

Ayala has had a tough week. The spotlight shone uncomfortably on her, starting around 2 p.m. Tuesday, when polling places began running out of ballots. To save money–the ballots cost 50 cents each–she ordered only 21,000 ballots in a city with 69,000 voters, betting on a turnout of no more than 30 percent.

It was a bad bet.

The result was chaos, culminating in a court order to keep the polls opened in a dozen precincts until 10 p.m., and leaving the city with a mixed bag of scannable ballots that were quickly counted by optical readers and photocopied ballots.

The city missed a statutory deadline of 6 p.m. Wednesday to deliver its official results to the secretary of the state, who scheduled a press conference at noon Thursday to release the tardy numbers. But noon became 3 p.m., and at 6 p.m. the secretary announced there would be no official results.

In Bridgeport, the count continued, mixed with some sparring. The city’s lawyers said Foley was looking to invent intrigue, something to take to court, in claiming that the uncounted JFK ballots had been hidden or lost.

“The assertion that there is any impropriety regarding the processing of written ballots from one of the Bridgeport voting precincts by Foley’s counsel is completely irresponsible,” said Arthur Laske, the deputy city attorney.

So, after 9 p.m., with the arrival of JFK moderator Amy Espinosa and her pregnant, unnamed assistant moderator at McLevy Hall, Ayala told the assembled witnesses that the bag now would be opened.

Covucci, the field director for the Foley campaign, objected.

“We don’t know where they’ve been,” he said. “We strongly object to these ballots being counted.”

“Your objection is noted,” replied Mark Anastasi, the city attorney.

Espinosa then stepped forward and checked the number on the seal. It was hers, she announced.

Someone produced a pair of scissors. She broke the seal and removed a manila envelope, holding it high for all to see.

Covucci started to ask a question, but Ayala cut him off and directed all questions be posed to the city attorney. She then gave a running commentary as Espinosa unsealed the envelope and removed the ballots.

A bipartisan team of counters then began sorting the ballots, straight-ticket Democratic ballots in one pile, straight-ticket Republican ballots in another, split ticket ballots in a third.

Once they were sorted, James Mullins, one of the counters, then quickly held up each Democratic ballot for all to see, then slapped it on the table, like a card dealer. He moved quickly, pausing only when challenged by another counter.

“OK?” he said, showing a ballot another counter, Julie Cataniapizighelli.

“I’m good,” she replied.

During a brief break, Cataniapizighelli leaned across the table to the pregnant assistant moderator and asked, “How you feelin’, love?”

The young woman smiled.

The count: Another 214 votes for Malloy and the rest of the Democratic ticket.

The group then resumed counting the split-ticket and straight-Republican ballots.

Once they finished the JFK ballots, they returned to checking the returns from the other 22 polling places.

At midnight, Finch scheduled a press conference for 6 a.m. today to release the tallies, which gave Malloy enough votes to be governor-elect — until and unless the Foley campaign can convince a judge to intervene.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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