Ballot shortage extends polling hours

It all comes down to Bridgeport.

After a dozen polling places in Bridgeport — over half of the city’s 23 precincts — ran out of ballots Tuesday, Democrats successfully petitioned a Hartford judge to extend polling an additional two hours to 10 p.m. Now, officials in both parties are waiting for results — and, perhaps, legal challenges — to decide Connecticut’s gubernatorial election.

“Why is it always Bridgeport?” Republican candidate Tom Foley said, after supporters booed at mention of Connecticut’s most populous city at a speech early Wednesday morning.

Bridgeport election officials only ordered 21,000 ballots for the city, which has around 69,000 registered voters, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz ’83 told members of the press at the victory rally for Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73. Officials from both parties said depending on the election’s outcome, they may take further legal action.

State Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger ordered a two hour voting extension for select precincts in Bridgeport due to the ballot shortage.

By early afternoon, several polling places began to experience ballot shortages, prompting Democrats to ask that more be printed. The city began Xeroxing ballots as an emergency measure, but even with the photocopies, the city found itself 1,000 ballots short, Bysiewicz added. A number of voters went to the polls, were asked to wait for the additional ballots, but left when the additional ballots did not arrive, Bysiewicz said.

“We’re very thankful that the judge has decided to protect the civil rights of voters,” she said, calling the situation unprecedented and grave.

After polls finally closed at 10 p.m., Allison Dodge, the executive director for Connecticut Democrats, said she had not heard any complaints from voters who could not vote during the additional two hours. She added that the Connecticut Democrats were satisfied with the court extension, but further action was not out of the question.

“We’re going to have to look at what happens and take it from there,” she said.

Members of Malloy’s campaign felt confident that the time extension in Bridgeport would be especially beneficial to Malloy.

“We’re hopeful that this snafu in Bridgeport will help Malloy pull through in this election,” Larry Charles, a campaign volunteer from New Haven, said.

As of press time, Bridgeport appeared to be the deciding factor in who would win the governor’s race. With 86 percent of the vote counted, Foley held a lead of 51 to 48 percent.

Out of Bridgeport’s 43,574 votes cast in the 2008 elections, roughly 78 percent went to Obama, making Connecticut’s the city a key stronghold for Democratic votes.

But even when the Bridgeport vote is finally tallied, legal questions surrounding the validity and process of votes cast during the poll extension could mire the gubernatorial election in court battles for weeks.

“It’s hard to understand, because it looked for a while as if Malloy was in command, but now it looks as if the Republican is going to win,” Quinnipiac University Poll Director Maurice Carroll said at midnight on Wednesday. He added that a Malloy win is dependent on a strong Democratic turnout in Bridgeport.

Heather Gerken, an expert on election law at Yale Law School, said in an e-mail that further legal action on the part of either campaign is unlikely unless they feel it is likely to determine the outcome of the election.

“If the race is close, both sides will be racing for the courtroom in anticipation of a recount,” she said, adding that it is not unusual to keep the polls open late when there is a ballot shortage.

Ballots submitted after 8 p.m. are to be counted separately according to the agreement reached by the state parties and Judge Berger. The Xeroxed ballots will be counted by hand, which will further slow the process.

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