68 ballots cast for wrong race in Norwich due to voting mixup

Norwich For the second time in four years, city voting officials mixed up ballots between precincts in the 46th state House District and those in the 47th District.

Last Tuesday, 68 ballots with candidates for the 47th District - incumbent Republican Christopher Coutu and Democratic challenger Cathy Osten - were erroneously sent to Precinct 8 at the John B. Stanton School, which is located in the 46th District. Voters in that precinct should have been choosing between incumbent Democrat Melissa Olson and Republican challenger William Nash.

The mistake did not affect the outcomes, as Coutu and Olson both won re-election by wide margins.

The mistake was discovered by Republican Deputy Registrar Dianne Slopak, who was called to the precinct at about 11 a.m. for a report of a machine malfunction. Slopak brought a new machine, but when that one also didn't work, she checked the ballots and discovered the error.

Democratic Registrar Joann Merolla-Martin and Republican Registrar Gerald Kortfelt sent an e-mail marked "urgent" to attorney Ted Bromley at the secretary of the state's office as soon as the error was discovered to receive instructions on what to do with the ballots.

The 68 ballots were retained in the "auxiliary box" at the side of the machine to be counted later, Merolla-Martin said. All votes cast on those ballots, except in the 47th House race, were hand-counted and included in the city totals, according to the instructions given by Bromley.

The registrars have isolated and retained the ballots.

Slopak said one packet of 100 ballots for the 47th District was included in a box of 1,500 ballots destined for Precinct 8. The ballots, the voting machine and the voting booth tables all are packed into metal portable vaults that are sent to the precincts. City officials said there is no way of knowing who put the wrong packet of ballots into the box.

Precinct moderators checked the top ballots in the box, which were correct, and used them. But when they opened the second packet, they did not check those ballots, Slopak said.

Slopak said she was told during election training that the machines are formatted to read ballots only for a specific precinct, and thus they rejected the erroneous ballots.

Voters also didn't notice that they were voting for the wrong candidates. None of the 68 voters pointed out the error.

Coutu said Monday that didn't surprise him. He said many people have asked him why they didn't find his name on the ballot. Coutu's 47th District includes the northern sections of Norwich, along with Canterbury, Sprague and Scotland. Olson's 46th District covers the southern and urban sections of Norwich.

Olson could not be reached to comment Monday.

No complaints have been filed with the state Elections Enforcement Commission.

In 2006, Norwich registrars Kortfelt and Democrat Nancy DePietro were fined $3,000 each by the Elections Enforcement Commission for a similar error using the old mechanical voting machines.

In that case, eight voting machines were sent to the wrong precincts. State officials termed it "a significant error," especially after city elections officials hand-corrected the names on some machines rather than replace them with "perfect machines."



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