21 November 2007

The Middlefield Experience

The small town of Middlefield has been a story unnoticed recently as local politics, conflicting personalities, and poor decisions caused a muddled ending to their municipal election.

It started on Election Night, Nov. 6, 2007, when Republican incumbent Jon Brayshaw defeated Democrat Mary Beth Johnson by 14 votes after a hard fought campaign. The recanvass of the ballots was triggerd by state law.

On Monday, November 12, the interested parties assembled to recanvass the votes. The moderator, registrars, and observers agreed that the count had been righteous and fair - and at the end Mr. Brayshaw's margin narrowed by just two votes, from 14 to 12. This is when things got fun.

It came to pass that when Democrats added up the tallied number of votes for Brayshaw, Johnson, and blank ballots, the number fell nine short of the total number of names checked off as having voted. This struck some Democrats as odd, and there were inquiries made as to the nature of these 'missing ballots', to which no one could provide a good answer.

With this in mind, the Democrats called for a second recanvass of the ballots in hopes of 'finding the missing ballots'. A lengthy discussion ensued, at the end of which a call to the Secretary of the State's office led the moderator to schedule Recanvass Part 2 on Saturday, Nov. 17. Notices went out and plans were made to have a second recanvass.

We at the Connecticut Republican Party had been aware of the situation since Election Night, and watched with pleasure as the recanvass validated the results. We were chagrined to learn of the proposed 'second recanvass' as there was no basis in law for the recanvass, just the Democrat desire to have another one.

This issue of check off list numbers not matching up with ballots is nothing new in any town, as there are a variety of factors at play. Sometimes people enter the polling place, check in, and then don't vote as a political statement. Sometimes people come to vote and decide not to for some reason - a relative calls to tell about the just-born grandson, an official checker accidentally checks off a name that has not voted, or noticing that there is thick smoke rising from a house across the street - lots of different things things happen to people, and sometimes it happens while they are trying to vote.

The Secretary of the State's office is a busy one, no doubt, but their actions in this case left many exasperated. Different officials gave differing opinions on what was permissible and what was not, but none were willing to make a decision and say with authority what process should be followed. They communicated via telephone exclusively, leaving documentation, paper trails, and precedent murky at best, unrecognizable at worst. Having a government office appear so difficult to navigate re-affirms a sometimes preconceived Republican notion that government is full of hapless bureaucrats who hope only for the phone to stop ringing. And yet, we always hope to be pleasantly surprised - usually to our detriment.

On Saturday, Middlefield Republican officials arrived at the recanvass with several questions that had not been previously answered, like under what authority was the second recanvass allowed? Who approved the second recanvass? Were the results of the Monday recanvass certified? All these were asked, and none were answered. With that, the Republican officials departed the room until the Secretary of the State's office could be contacted for further guidance.

In lieu of this advice, the Republican First Selectman was administered the oath of office on Sunday. The next day, the Secretary of the State's office expressed appreciation to the Middlefield Republican officials for not participating in the 'recanvass' and told them that it would have been a bad idea.

So this was the Middlefield experience this year as the new machines, new recanvass procedures, and antiquated laws came together to produce a convoluted process for electing one local official. God save the Secretary of our State and the other responsible officials who made it possible.