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Ballot Unsealed, But Doesn’t Resolve Tied Race

by Christine Stuart | Sep 19, 2012 6:01pm
(5) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Courts, Election 2012, Town News, Hartford, Windsor, Legal

Christine Stuart file photo

Brandon McGee, Leo Canty, and Donald Trinks on Aug. 14

(Updated 8:02 a.m., Thursday) Judge A. Susan Peck decided Wednesday afternoon to open the sealed ballot of an elderly Windsor woman initially thought to be deceased after weighing her right to privacy and her right to have her vote counted in the tied 5th Assembly District race.

The ballot could have decided the Democratic nomination, which was tied between candidates Leo Canty and Brandon McGee. A third candidate, Windsor Mayor Donald Trinks, also was on the primary ballot, but he came in a distant third to Canty and McGee.

After deciding the woman, whose name was published by the Journal Inquirer, had a right to have her vote counted, Peck opened the envelope as those in the court gallery waited on the edge of their seats for the result.

Peck smiled as she looked at the ballot and then called the attorneys up to the bench to inspect it.

As Attorney William Sweeney turned to walk back to his seat, he quietly said “Trinks!” and the gallery erupted in laughter. The race was tied yet again.

“This is comparable to Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s safe,” he quipped.

The election officially ended in a tie. Having exhausted all of the possibilities, Peck ordered a re-vote of the 5th Assembly District. The new election will be held Oct. 2.

Reached by phone, Trinks said that he will be submitting a letter to the Secretary of the State’s office on Thursday withdrawing his name from the ballot.

“Leo and Brandon earned the right to fight it out,” Trinks said.

As he’s gone through this process of recounting the ballots in the race with the other candidates, Trinks said he’s come to the conclusion that “it’s better to lose by 400 votes than to win by one.”

Hitting the campaign trail again presents an interesting twist in this election drama. Both Canty and McGee received public financing for the primary, but won’t be able to raise or receive any additional money for the extra innings.

After court adjourned, Canty said he knew as soon as he saw the smile on Peck’s face that the ballot wasn’t for him or McGee. He said her smile meant she was “off-the-hook” in terms of the need to make a tough decision.

“This has been quite a rocky road and interesting to say the least,” Canty said, adding that he’s glad they’re going to go to a re-vote, which is what he always wanted.

“Even if I had won by one vote there were other issues that weren’t brought before the court because it wasn’t our complaint,” Canty said.

The lawsuit was filed by McGee after Canty won the first recount by a single vote. A second recount ordered by Peck last week solved two issues, but raised a new one.

An elderly Windsor woman who had voted by absentee ballot was not dead. The envelope containing her ballot had been labeled “deceased” by the Windsor Democratic Registrar of Voters.

The envelope containing the ballot appeared Monday evening during the second recount, but no one was able to testify as to why the woman’s vote had been excluded from the first two ballot counts.

Windsor Democratic Registrar of Voters Anita Mips testified that the woman’s name was entered into the computer system as deceased, but both Windsor and Hartford could not find a death certificate.

Mips said it’s the responsibility of her deputy to enter the names of dead people into the computer system.

“I know how it was done, why it was done I don’t understand,” Mips said. “It leads me to believe it was an error in our office.”

A tearful and apologetic Mips said it was a “regrettable” error.

Jay Melley, the moderator for the Aug. 14 primary election in Windsor, called reporters from three different news organizations Tuesday morning and asked them not to publish the voter’s name, if they had overheard it during the second recount Monday evening. He said the three news organization agreed. He said he was not given a phone number for the fourth newspaper in attendance Monday during the recount and was not aware its reporter was there. He said he would have called if he had known.

The Journal Inquirer, an afternoon newspaper which is printed in the morning, published the woman’s name. Assistant Managing Editor Ralph Williams said Melley never called the Journal Inquirer to make the request.

“If he had called I would have weighed what he said, but I’m not uncomfortable at all with using the voter’s name,” Williams said Thursday morning.

According to Peck, the publication of the voter’s name carries a sentence of up to a five years under the state’s penal code. She said she considered an injunction against the newspaper, but didn’t want to do that without hearing from its attorneys.

Peck gave an order prohibiting the re-publication of the woman’s name as the state Elections Enforcement Commission staff listened. Michael Brandi, executive director of the SEEC, was in court but was unable to comment on whether his agency would be pursuing an enforcement action against the newspaper.

Editor’s note: This story adds information from the Journal Inquirer newspaper whose editor says it never received a phone call from election officials.

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(5) Comments

posted by: Tessa Marquis | September 19, 2012  9:11pm

Clusterf#(%

posted by: mattw | September 19, 2012  10:36pm

The judge should not have read the voter’s candidate selection in the courtroom, especially once she knew that the voter’s name had already been printed by the press.  Examining the ballot and saying that “neither of the two tied candidates are chosen” would have left the ballot a secret (it could have been Trinks or blank).

posted by: madereinerue | September 20, 2012  12:22pm

madereinerue

True, mattw. But to me, the right to ballot secrecy, though precious, is trumped by the fundamental right to VOTE (which is, after all, the Source of the secrecy protection).

This absentee voter was eligible to vote, had done everything necessary to exercise that right, and was alive & reportedly Feisty on primary day (and, we hope, today and for many many more to come). Therefore *she* has a fundamental right to *have her vote officially counted & recorded exactly as cast*—just as it would have been but for the humanly-erroneous data-entry of “Deceased.”

Mayor Trinks also has a right—albeit a subsidiary one—to expect that his vote total will include all valid votes cast for him. Granted, this didn’t require the judge to Announce the unsealed ballot’s marking—but it Did require that Trinks’s official total (a public record of course) increase by 1, which would pretty much Tell the Tale, don’t you think? smile

Now we may say “But it didn’t matter! With or without that ballot, Canty & McGee are still tied!”  But I say: it DID matter. EVERY VOTE always matters. Not just votes for the winner(s)—those for the loser(s) too. You don’t just “throw out” a valid vote—even (perhaps Especially!)  one whose secrecy has been compromised by no fault of the voter’s but by inadvertent official error & poor journalistic judgement—on the grounds that it doesn’t determine the winner.

posted by: madereinerue | September 20, 2012  8:42pm

madereinerue

Wow. The mighty Hartford Courant agrees with me! (See next-to-last paragraph)—
http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-ed-thriller-in-close-primary-20120920,0,7639960.story

( Gee. Maybe I’m wrong.)  wink

posted by: mattw | September 21, 2012  10:27pm

It is important to have a correct count of the votes, but ballot secrecy is given precedence in our system—it appears in the constitution as a right (“The right of secret voting shall be preserved”), while voting as a right is (and has historically been) somewhat more flexible in its universality.

Just as an example—if a voter writes their name on their ballot, that ballot is disqualified.

So while it was appropriate for the judge to admonish the Journal Inquirer for their serious breach of a voter’s constitutional rights, she should have also been mindful of this herself in making the announcement.

There’s a similar issue, which is what happens when all the voters in a precinct (or all the absentee votes in a precinct) come in for the same candidate: must the disaggregated (precinct-by-precinct) results be disclosed? The list of those who voted? FOIA doesn’t recognize an exception in this case, but it’s information that is very easy to compile for those who want it.