Fasano calls for election audit [Record-Journal]

November 19, 2014


Confusion about election results from Cheshire, specifically regarding the tightly-contested 13th Senate District race, has prompted Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano to request an audit of the entire district.

On Friday, Fasano wrote to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill asking that her office perform the audit “to lay to rest concerns about the validity of the results.”

Results from the 13th District — consisting of Meriden, Middlefield and parts of Middletown and Cheshire — have changed several times in the past two weeks. Since Nov. 5, Cheshire election officials have submitted four sets of amended results to the Secretary of the State’s office. According to the latest set of results, submitted on Nov. 12, Democratic state Sen. Dante Bartolomeo leads Republican challenger Len Suzio by 234 votes. By law, municipalities have up to 14 days to submit amended results after the election. Through the four amendments, Suzio’s vote count increased by 1,529 votes while Bartolomeo’s total increased by 1,158 votes.

“How so many votes can be miscounted, lost, missed or otherwise unaccounted for is very troubling,” wrote Fasano, R-North Haven.

Suzio said he has yet to concede because of fluctuations in the vote count.

“There are really extremely unusual circumstances here with unusually large changes in the numbers,” he said. “It leads to questions about reliability. It’s not unreasonable to expect an audit be done.”
Cheshire initially filed results with the state in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, the day after the election. Taking those results into consideration with final results from the other municipalities, Bartolomeo had a 614 vote advantage over Suzio. The following day, amended results from Cheshire gave Bartolomeo a 336 vote margin over Suzio. Later that day, Nov. 6, officials in Cheshire filed what they considered “final” figures with the state, giving Bartolomeo a 498 vote advantage over Suzio.

But results were amended once more a week later, bringing about the current margin of 234 votes.

By law, an automatic recount would be triggered by a 150-vote margin, but Fasano asked that the legal requirement be waived due to the volatility of results.

Fasano said Tuesday he met with Merrill and her staff Monday to discuss the issue. She expressed concern, he said, “but unfortunately the authority granted to her office by statute is limited.”

Spokesman Av Harris confirmed Tuesday that the secretary of the state’s office doesn’t have the legal authority to audit voting precincts if they aren’t randomly chosen post-election.

State law requires that 10 percent of polling precincts be randomly audited after an election. Last week, Merrill announced that 77 precincts were selected for an audit, including Cheshire’s Chapman School precinct. Two precincts in Meriden and one in Middletown were also randomly selected.

“We share their frustration,” Harris said. “It’s not the first time that results have changed by more than just a few votes out of Cheshire.”

The only other option would be to ask a judge to order an audit of the district, Harris said.

Fasano said changes need to be made during the next legislative session to give the secretary of the state’s office discretionary power to perform audits.
“We need to change the law so there is accountability,” he said.

Election results aren’t final until they are certified by the secretary of the state’s office, which will occur on Nov. 26, Harris said.

In 2012, Bartolomeo defeated Suzio by 279 votes.

“How can candidates or the electorate have any confidence in the system used to tabulate votes and declare winners and losers when such errors are being made on a seemingly regular basis?” Fasano wrote in his letter to Merrill.

Tom Smith, Cheshire’s Democratic Registrar of Voters, said Tuesday the precinct numbers that were reported never changed, but overall numbers varied “because of an accounting formula in the spreadsheet we were using. It was puzzling to us and the candidates.”

A formula was missing and making some of the columns vary slightly, Smith said. The issue was explained to both candidates and the secretary of the state’s office. Amended results were filed four times, even though not up to date, because candidates and state officials were eager for results, he said.

Smith, who has worked elections for 25 years, said this was the most difficult yet, complicated by dealing with Election Day registration.

Susan Pappas, Cheshire’s Republican Registrar of Voters, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Registrars are elected part-time positions. Adam Grippo, Cheshire Republican town chairman, said he was confident in Pappas and her staff.

“I’m more concerned about the same day voting ballots,” he said. “I think that’s what caused them the most trouble. The entire process is flawed regardless of what the result ends up being. I blame the secretary of the state’s office for unclear instructions and a poorly written public act.”

While there was a glitch in the spreadsheet, both registrars did no wrong, said Ernie DiPietro, Democratic town chairman. Fasano speaking out is “Republican propaganda,” he said, because the race was close. “That’s politics and I understand that.”

Bartolomeo said she has already started working on issues for the next legislative session.

“I’ve moved on,” she said. “The election is over and we should all move on.”

Suzio said Tuesday he would meet with his election team Tuesday night and decide how to proceed.

“I don’t want to prolong this any longer,” he said. “I hope that some good comes out of this by some legislation that will really solve the shortcomings of the process that have become pretty evident by this experience.”