Election Day snarls may prompt legislative action

By STEPHEN SINGER
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ It was an Election Day scene in Connecticut that officials and voters hoped would never again happen.

But four years after voting in Bridgeport was snarled by a lack of ballots, long lines and confusion, voters in Hartford were told at several polling stations early Tuesday morning that voter lists critical to Election Day procedures were not available. A judge extended voting by a half-hour in the evening to compensate for the delay.

Local officials blamed budget cuts and other issues for the problems, but Secretary of the State Denise Merrill called the lack of voter lists “unconscionable” and referred the matter to the state Elections Enforcement Commission to determine if state election laws were violated.

Merrill called it “apparent gross dereliction of duty by Hartford’s registrars of voters.”

If necessary, the elections enforcement agency should refer the matter for potential criminal action, said Av Harris, Merrill’s spokesman. A spokesman for the elections enforcement agency said it will take up the matter at its next scheduled meeting Nov. 18.

Olga Iris Vasquez, Hartford’s Democratic registrar of voters, said budget cuts and reduced staffing hampered the timely delivery of voter rolls.

“There’s going to be hiccups along the way,” she said.

Harris said Merrill may seek changes in state laws administering elections but did not specify what those changes could be.

“You’ll definitely hear from us,” he said.

Hartford wasn’t the only jurisdiction reporting voting problems. Vote totals were not fully reported in West Hartford until Wednesday, creating confusion in a race that Democratic state Sen. Beth Bye won.

Republican Registrar Eleanor M. Brazell said poll workers and others were exhausted and Election Day registration also hampered vote-counting, she said.

Asked why vote totals were not made available until Wednesday morning, she said, “We felt we couldn’t keep our eyes open another minute and that’s why.”

Other problems included a broken tape in Simsbury, jammed scanners in West Haven where a new machine had to be certified and a voting machine malfunction in Newtown.

Rep. Ed Jutila, the House chairman of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee, said it might be time to consider changes in election law when the legislature convenes in January though problems at polling stations are “isolated incidents,” he said.

“Given that something happened in Bridgeport and likely happened in Hartford, we ought to take a look,” he said.

Merrill has in the past two years unsuccessfully proposed measures that would have given her more authority to enforce opinions that are now advisory, requiring local election officials to follow her guidance, Jutila said.

Problems this past Election Day fell far short of what snarled voting in Bridgeport in 2010. The shortage of ballots led to delays at polling places, use of photocopies as provisional ballots and a court order extending voting. The problems led to vote-counting delays and confusion about who finally won the close race for governor between Republican Tom Foley and the winner, Democrat Dannel P. Malloy.

But even if Tuesday’s problems paled in comparison, they brought back ugly reminders of 2010.

“It’s absolutely a distinction Connecticut does not want to have,” Harris said.

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