Recounts Confirm Results in Stamford Primaries

(CT Examiner)


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STAMFORD – After a five-hour recount Monday, the results of Democratic primary races for two Board of Representatives seats are unchanged.

The vote tally in one race stayed exactly the same. In the other, the winner of the Sept. 12 primary increased her tally by one.

In District 18, newcomer Karen Camporeale’s lead over party insider Jennienne Burke held at two votes. Camporeale won, 217 votes to 215.

In District 7, newcomer Christina Strain defeated incumbent city Rep. Bianca Shinn, 157 votes to 148. The original count was 156 votes for Strain and 149 for Shinn, but the recount turned up one absentee ballot that was counted for Shinn that should have been counted for Strain.

Democratic Registrar of Voting Ron Malloy said it’s not clear how, “but it seems like one tabulator on election day read an absentee ballot one way, and another tabulator during the recount read it another way.”

Ultimately, the change “didn’t make a difference in the outcome,” Malloy said.

One of the observers of the recount, Robin Druckman, chair of the Democratic City Committee, which endorsed Shinn, asked that all 26 absentee ballots cast in District 7 be hand-counted. 

But Malloy put in a call to the Office of the Secretary of the State and was told that the machine recount is final.

“We knew the rule but we wanted everyone who was observing to hear it, because we knew that after the District 7 recount, we were doing the District 18 recount, and that had a difference of only two votes,” Malloy said. “We did an extra test on the tabulator to provide further assurance to the public.”

Enfolding the unendorsed

Druckman said she was satisfied with the result. She and Democratic City Committee member Susana Vidan congratulated Strain on her win, even though the party did not endorse Strain. 

After the recount confirmed the tally in the District 18 race, Druckman and Vidan also congratulated Camporeale. The party endorsed neither candidate, Druckman said.

Strain and Camporeale will have the party’s support on Nov. 7, when they face Republican challengers in the general election, Druckman said.

The recount was a lot of work but went well, Druckman said. It goes a long way toward “keeping democracy intact,” she said.

Recount procedures are meticulous.

The state mandates a recount when the difference between candidates in a race is less than .5 percent of the total votes cast, or fewer than 20 votes. 

So many rules

The people who do the recounts are pulled from among the workers who staffed the polls during the election. Before the recount begins, they take an oath. The recount is overseen by the registrar of voters, moderators, attorneys, and experienced independent observers which Monday included Norwalk Registrar of Voters Stuart Wells, and Executive Director Luther Weeks of Connecticut Citizen Election Audit. Members of the public are allowed to observe.

“In a primary recount, members of the party observe for their endorsed candidates, but the other candidates often don’t have anyone and don’t know the process,” Weeks said. “So when people who are not endorsed ask me to observe a recount, I say yes.”

Tabulators used during the recount are tested for accuracy. Each tabulator has a serial number. Ballots are checked against the books poll monitors use to log in voters during the election. Numbered seals are placed on the tabulators, the memory cards inside the tabulators, the cases used to carry the ballots, and more.

Ballots that are “spoiled” are not discarded – they are marked with an X and kept. Tabulators spit them out during an election because they can’t read them. When poll tenders see a ballot spit into the tabulator bin, they give the voter a fresh one.

One spoiled ballot examined Monday was rejected because a voter wrote in a candidate who was not accepted by the secretary of the state. Other ballots couldn’t be counted because the voter marked the wrong side. A few voters filled in ovals for two or more candidates when they should have chosen one.

Primaries pain parties

Malloy said Monday’s recount took many hours but it had to proceed “with accuracy and transparency so everyone sees that it is fair and correct.”

Camporeale watched the procedure nervously. A nail-biter such as her race emphasizes the importance of the rules – and of voting, Camporeale said.

“I have lived through this stress to say to people that your vote counts,” she said. “Every vote counts.”

Besides the two Board of Representatives races that required recounts, the Nov. 7 municipal election in Stamford includes races for two more representative seats, and seats on the Board of Finance and Board of Education. Voters also must decide whether to change the city charter, Stamford’s constitution, on nine points.

The Board of Representatives primary wins may prove significant because they can weight the divide within the legislative branch, where Democratic Party loyalists battle party reformers on issues, including the most contentious – zoning and development.

City Rep. Nina Sherwood, majority leader of the Board of Representatives and leader of the reform Democrats, has said the reformers sometimes differ with the party head, Democratic Mayor Caroline Simmons, and think that “the establishment of the Democratic City Committee does not represent them.”

Sherwood campaigned for Strain and Camporeale, who face Republicans on Nov. 7.

“The result of these primaries is that the people of Stamford will be better represented by the Democratic Party on the Board of Representatives if these candidates win,” Sherwood said. “They will get people who are very rooted in trying to do what the people of the district want.”

Vidan said primaries are tough for parties but have benefits.

“They’re painful, but they’re good because they get candidates out there meeting people in their districts,” Vidan said.

Hundreds of doors

Camporeale, for example, said she knocked on “every Democratic door in District 18,” which numbered about 1,400. Strain said her campaign “pretty much covered the whole district” during her primary run.

In Democrat-dominated Stamford, the Board of Representatives has 36 members from that party and four Republicans. Republican Town Committee Chair Joe Andreana, who was elected to his post on Aug. 9, said Monday he is “excited and proud to support” his party’s candidates in November.

Republicans will put up neighborhood activist Mike Battinelli against Strain in District 7, Andreana said. In District 18, the incumbent Republican city representative, Steve Garst, will face Camporeale, Andreana said.

In another race, which did not require a recount, incumbent Democratic city Rep. Carl Weinberg of District 20 will be challenged by Republican newcomer Vito Quivelli, Andreana said.

“Each one brings unique qualities and experiences that would benefit Stamford within their respective district and all of Stamford,” Andreana said. “In a little over 30 days as chair, I have heard many people talk about the need for change and the change will start when we elect these three candidates this November.”

This story has been updated to clarify the DCC’s support in the races

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.