By MELISSA BAILEY , Middletown Press Staff
HARTFORD -- A broken lever on one voting machine spurred a remedy of unexpected size in state Supreme Court Wednesday: The court ordered a new, city-wide election for all common council candidates, set tentatively for Jan. 24.
Middletownís city attorney had been fighting a lower courtís decision that called for a limited Common Council re-vote in the district that housed the flawed machine on Nov. 8.
Arguing such a re-vote would disrupt the council and disenfranchise voters who properly cast their vote on Election Day, the city made an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
But the attempt to prevent the re-vote backfired when the panel of the stateís seven highest judges not only approved of a re-vote, but opened the new election to all 14 voting districts in the city.
David P. Bauer, who filed the original suit when a broken lever robbed him of an unknown number of votes on Election Day, said he was pleased with the decision but surprised at the scope of the remedy.
He lost the 12th and final seat on Common Council to fellow Republican V. James Russo by 102 votes, and hoped for the chance to run again by a fair democratic process. But he never expected the whole city would get involved.
"Wow, this is really something," he said, contemplating the thought a city-wide campaign in the dead of winter.
The justices of the state Supreme Court had no question the machine was flawed. Last election, Bauer tallied 188, 179 and 169 votes on three machines at the Farm Hill Elementary School, but the fourth machine gave him only 12 votes. A later inspection revealed that machine had a broken lever.
In past years, that same lever has proved similarly troubling: Lever 4A tallied 12 votes in 2001; zero votes in 2002 and zero votes in 2004, records show.
Everyone agreed the flaw was apparent, including City Attorney Trina Solecki, who brought the case to state Supreme Court. State law says if there are "substantial mistakes" in the vote count that cast vote results seriously in doubt, a new election should be held.
Solecki argued that one disputed seat out of the 12-person Common Council was not serious enough to warrant a new election. The justices were quick to disagree.
Further, the justices said, since an election should be a true "snapshot" of the electorate on the day of the election, the District 11 re-vote would have disenfranchised voters in the other 13 districts by barring them from the new election.
People could change their minds in a new vote, possibly altering the make-up of common council, where Democrats now rule 8 to 4. All voters must get equal say in how that make-up is changed, they argued.
Mayor Seb Giuliano agreed with this logic. "I think the Supreme Courtís remedy was the correct one," he said in an interview Wednesday.
Giuliano has already tried to wield the election as a political tool in his debates with Democrats over appointments to the new high school building committee. "Let them go out and tout David Larson," he threatened Democratic Councilmen in an interview this week, "go convince the voting public that you may have to face in an election on January 24."
The court-set date of Jan. 24 may be pushed back due to time concerns as voter registrars scramble to attempt the massive task. The election will be open to all 16 common council candidates, who will undergo a new lottery to determine the order of names. The broken machine will be removed, and all others will be zeroed and re-inspected, according to the voting registrar.
Bauer hopes the city will take the opportunity to adopt a more rigorous inspection process. "One thing Iím definitely advocating is that not a single machine gets out to this election before itís adequately checked."
Councilman Tom Serra, the Democratic Majority leader, agreed. Not noticing a broken lever for four years is "absolutely" negligent, he said.
He hoped those involved would inspect the machines more thoroughly.
Serra wasnít pleased with the courtís decision, which he sees as disenfranchising voters whose vote was cast properly on Election Day.
He said the Democratic caucus thought a Bauer-Russo run-off would have been the fairest solution, but he accepted the matter was sealed.
Instead, he said heíd turn his mind to the host of new questions opened by the campaign. What if thereís a blizzard? Will as many voters turn out at the polls?
He chuckled imagining the winter campaign: "Will we have to get our galoshes on, our hats and gloves, and stand chattering at the doors?"
To contact Melissa Bailey, call (860)347-3331 ext. 220 or e-mail email@example.com.
©The Middletown Press 2005
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