Vote recount gives victory in first selectman's race to Skulczyck
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Nov. 18, 2013
Simple mathematics took on much higher stakes than usual at Griswold Town Hall Nov. 13, as a small army of volunteers, officials and state political staff gathered to formally recount the ballots in the Nov. 5 municipal election. The original count tallied on Election Day gave the victory in the first selectmen’s race to Republican challenger Kevin Skulczyck, with one vote more than Democratic incumbent Phil Anthony, and state law required a recount to affirm the margin.
When the dust settled after more than five hours, Skulczyck had actually garnered an additional vote and was declared the winner, with a vote of 854-852. But in the meantime, the advantage went back and forth, as disputed ballots were examined carefully and volunteer moderators tried to determine what voters intended by their sometime-cryptic markings.
Head Moderator Glen Norman conducted the proceedings, swearing in eight volunteers who were paired off, one from each political party. The group started in with the absentee ballots. “We have two people looking at each one,” said Norman. “If you’re satisfied that it’s a correctly filled-out ballot, we’ll be running it through the tabulator.” From that fairly small group, the checkers proceeded to same-day-registration ballots, and then to the intimidating stack of regular paper ballots from each of the town’s two polling places. For those ballots, each of the eight checkers looked at the ballot, dropping it into a box if it seemed questionable.
Registrar of Voters Carol Seaman said that the town has encountered close races before, “but it’s never been this contentious. That’s why it’s so nerve-wracking. It’s really hard work for the checkers. It takes a while to get into the rhythm.”
Not only were the eight checkers examining each of the town’s 2,200 ballots, but their work was being closely watched by representatives from the state offices of both Republican and Democratic parties. “It’s very disconcerting when they have people watching over their backs,” said Seaman. The state office representatives are not allowed to lean over the checkers or to touch the ballots, she said.
And the ballots themselves were often hard to decipher, presenting with coffee stains, multiple markings and confusing writing. On one questionable ballot, the voter had blackened out an entire row of squares, obscuring the candidates’ names, but hadn’t filled in any ovals. “What if they scribbled?” asked one of the checkers. “This one isn’t even in an envelope,” said another, referring to an absentee ballot sent by mail. One of the checkers remarked that some voters would benefit from a class in penmanship.
“It’s not a penmanship contest,” said Norman. He told the volunteers to check that the names and numbers on the absentee ballots matched their envelopes, and that the paper ballots clearly indicated a choice of candidate. In ambiguous cases, such as circles filled in and then crossed out, Norman conferred with checkers as to their opinion of voter intent, but the final determination was Norman’s.
Seaman said that about 20 percent of precincts in the state are selected for an audit by state officials. It was possible, she said, that this election might be chosen for yet another re-examination.
“People always say, ‘My vote doesn’t count,'” said Skulczyck. “But boy, oh boy, did one or two votes count this time.”