November 10, 2010

Bridgeport voting debacle shows poor training - The Daily Campus - Commentary

Bridgeport voting debacle shows poor training - The Daily Campus - Commentary

"Though the chaotic governor's race is over, and Democrat Dan Malloy has legitimately won, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Bridgeport officials should be held accountable for the voting fiasco. Bridgeport registrars failed to secure enough ballots and neglected to satisfactorily explain the voting irregularities that occurred. As a result, a clear victory for Malloy dragged out for days, allowing unsubstantiated concerns about fraud to undermine voter confidence. Bysiewicz failed to prevent the ballot shortage and worsened the situation by making a premature announcement on Wednesday that was based on unofficial election results.

Such incompetence needs to be investigated, identified and corrected so that this preventable scenario does not happen again.

Bridgeport drastically underestimated the number of ballots that it required. For 69,000 registered voters, the city only requested 21,000, even though it had ordered 28,000 for the low-profile 2009 municipal elections. Furthermore, the number of ballots was meant to cover 30 percent of registered voters, even though the smallest turnout recorded in the last 14 years was 39 percent. The Hartford Courant reports that Bridgeport's Republican Registrar of Voters, Joseph Borges, took cost into consideration when ordering the ballots. Though Democratic Registrar Sandi Ayala did not address the shortage issue, Borges apologized on his behalf, saying "we are taking responsibility; it's our fault."

Borges and Ayala are right in accepting responsibility for their negligence. As registrars, they should have reported any cost concern to the Secretary of the State's office, instead of shrugging their shoulders and hoping for the best. Because of their laziness, citizens were turned away from the polls. Those who remained had to wait in long lines while officials quickly printed out more ballots.The mistake created discrepancies in the total voting tally for the gubernatorial race, which caused the dilemma to drag on for days.

But Borges and Ayala are not the only one's responsible for the shortage; the Secretary of the State's Office should have caught the problem. Bysiewicz defended herself, saying that in "2008, when a high turnout was predicted, my office advised registrars to order enough ballots to cover 110 percent of the voter rolls," suggesting that she had provided guidelines to prevent just this situation, and any failure is on the part of city officials. Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, also a Democrat, sees things differently. "I will also say, the Secretary of the State's office should have caught this mistake." Bysiewicz failed to enforce her own recommendations. This oversight did not occur in a small town, which would have minimized the issue. It occurred in Connecticut's largest city. There is no excuse for missing a 48,000 ballot shortage.

In addition to the ballot shortage in Bridgeport, Bysiewicz is also responsible for post-election mistakes. On Wednesday, she announced to the media that Dan Malloy was the winner-apparent, even though Bridgeport had not yet released its official vote count. The public announcement should not have been made based on unofficial results. Bysiewicz's decision was premature and unprofessional, especially since the numbers released to the public at the time showed Foley as the winner. Additionally, the Associated Press had not finalized the total with Bysiewicz's own office, and would go so far as to withdraw Malloy as the official winner before the final count showed him the victor. Bysiewicz's actions suggested political favoritism at worst, lack of tact at best. Her mistakes have undermined her personal credibility and the state's ability to regulate the basic electoral process.

Further responsibility lies with individual errors of election workers. Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy, a Republican poll watcher, witnessed several irregularities, such as voters who were checked off without showing an ID and exposed ballots, which should have been secured in the regular steel cages. To make matters worse, a bag full of 300 uncounted ballots was found two days after the election. Ayala brushed aside concerns about tampering, arguing that the bags had been sealed since Tuesday. Nevertheless, officials did not notify vote counters of the bag, and the ballots remained untouched and unprotected until their discovery.

Even though these irregularities are not illegal and do not suggest fraud, they reveal an inadequate training process for poll workers. Conducting a safe, legal election is not easy, but it is essential to the democratic process. Therefore, the individuals who staff the polling places need to clearly understand protocol and be able to respond to any situation, within reason, that may develop.

The mistakes and miscounts do not change the outcome of the governor's race, but they severely undermine the credibility of the state's electoral system. They damage the reputation of Secretary of the State Bysiewicz and the two Bridgeport registrars, while pointing to the communication breakdown that should not have happened between overstressed election officials and poll workers.

An investigation into the secretary of the state and registrars' handling of the affair is necessary to explain exactly what happened and to call to task the people who failed to perform their duty."

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