Judge Orders New Democratic Primary Election In Deadlocked 5th House District
Mystery Ballot Contained Vote For Candidate Who Finished Third
By STEVEN GOODE
September 19, 2012
HARTFORD —— A Superior Court judge has ordered a new election on Oct. 2 in the deadlocked Democratic primary for the 5th General Assembly District.
Judge A. Susan Peck scheduled the new vote after an uncounted absentee ballot with the potential to decide the race was opened in court Wednesday afternoon — and was found to be cast for the third candidate in the race.
The absentee ballot was in an envelope marked "deceased," but election officials found out Tuesday that it was cast by an elderly Windsor woman who is alive and living in a local nursing home.
The uncounted ballot, still in its sealed envelope, had been seen as the possible election-deciding vote because a recount Monday in Windsor gave challenger Brandon McGee one additional vote, tying the race with party-endorsed candidate Leo Canty at 774-774.
A recount in Hartford Tuesday resulted in no change to the results in the city.
McGee, of Hartford, had filed an elections complaint following an initial recount during which he lost a vote in Windsor. Canty, of Windsor, was declared the winner by one vote.
After a highly unusual second recount ordered by Peck, the court hearing on McGee's complaint was reconvened Wednesday with an intense focus on the uncounted absentee ballot.
Peck considered whether to even open the envelope, saying that to do so would identify a voter and her vote, violating the principle of the secret ballot. Peck noted that the woman's name already had been published, but nevertheless ordered that the voter's name not appear in any news medium until a hearing is held on the issue.
Before opening the ballot Peck said, "the court has to balance the privacy rights of the voter against the rights of the voters of the 5th District to have the race determined."
The packed courtroom fell silent as Peck opened the ballot and shared it with the attorneys. A burst of laughter erupted when it was announced that the vote was cast for Windsor Mayor Donald Trinks, who finished a distant third in the primary.
The mysterious absentee ballot had not been counted during the original election or during the first and second recounts.
During the recount in Windsor Monday, lawyers began asking questions about the ballot, its notation of "deceased," and the date of the woman's death. Officials couldn't provide answers or find any record of an obituary. They then called the address listed on the ballot Tuesday morning and learned that the woman was alive.
On Wednesday, Windsor election officials were called to the stand to testify about how the woman's ballot ended up being marked "deceased."
Anita Mips, Windsor's Democratic registrar of voters, testified that the notation was entered into an electronic voter database by one of her assistants.
"I know how it was done, but not why it was done," Mips said. "It was a terrible error in our office."
McGee's complaint alleged that a different ballot was lost at a polling place in Windsor and that absentee ballots in Hartford had been counted improperly. The 5th General Assembly District is made up of three voting districts in Windsor and two in Hartford.
Peck had ordered the second recount last week in an attempt to find the supposedly lost Windsor ballot and clear up a question about the number of absentee ballots received in Hartford.
After Peck's decision to hold a new primary election, Canty, who had called for a revote immediately after the Aug. 14 primary, said he had mixed feelings about her decision to open the ballot. He said he "didn't think the judge needed to do that."
Asked about how he felt about the vote's going to Trinks, Canty said "thank you Mr. Mayor."
McGee said he was impressed with Peck's decision that the "will of the people be at the forefront" of her thinking.
"Every vote counts," he said.
Trinks, who has a right to be on the ballot for the new primary election, said Wednesday that he will not have his name listed.
"Leo and Brandon have earned the right to go head to head," Trinks said.
Now the focus switches to the secretary of the state's office, which must prepare for the new primary while also getting ready for the general election on Nov. 6.
The disputed primary is a memorable first vote in the newly reapportioned 5th House District. Federally mandated redistricting returned a Democratic majority house district to Windsor for the first time in 30 years.
Canty, a politically connected Windsor Democrat, was instrumental in getting Windsor the seat through his lobbying efforts at the Capitol.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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