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Discrepancy in East Haven recount  (CT)

Pamela McLoughlin    New Haven Register   13 November 2007

EAST HAVEN A recount of votes in Tuesday's election showed Democrat April Capone Almon with a bigger lead than first tallied over Republican Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr., but the results were not certified Sunday night.

Head Moderator Lori Jaffe announced at about 8:15 p.m. Sunday that the recounting had been completed but she will turn to Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz for guidance because there is a discrepancy between the number of ballots counted and the number of voters who came in on election day.

Jaffe declined to reveal any numbers in that "discrepancy" but she said, "The margin of victory is approximately 50-60 votes."

According to Almon and Democratic Town Chairman Gene Ruocco, the recount at Town Hall, begun at 9 a.m. and ending in early evening, showed Almon, 32, with an unofficial 63-vote lead; originally, she was thought to have won by 21 votes.

But some Republicans were questioning the integrity of the recount. The recount showed 134 more votes cast Tuesday than were reported on election night. At press time, election officials still had not determined the reason for the discrepancy.

There also was a controversy brewing over the alleged removal Sunday of documents from Town Hall. Republicans suggested they might have something to do with the election and Democrats claimed they were simply public documents that had been shredded.

Earlier in the day, Director of Administration and Management Arthur L. DeSorbo said he saw several plainclothes cops carrying bags of shredded paper out of the lower level of Town Hall and putting them in a cruiser.

DeSorbo called Police Chief Len Gallo, who told him no one had been directed to remove any bags. DeSorbo claimed two of the cops had been active in Almon's campaign and the police union had endorsed her.

There was no official confirmation of what was in the bags.

"I got the distinct impression they were doing something they didn't want me to see," DeSorbo said. "This is a scary situation."

"It looks like something's rotten in Denmark," Maturo said Sunday, referring all questions about the shredded paper to DeSorbo.

DeSorbo said some of the shreddings were the same color as the ballots, casting questions in his mind about the election results. He said Gallo went to headquarters, put the bags in his office and is launching an internal investigation.

Ruocco said he called detectives Friday to let them know there was shredding going on in Town Hall, possibly an indication that documents were being destroyed. Ruocco said detectives couldn't get to the bags Friday because Town Hall was locked.

Upon seeing the bags when Town Hall was open for the recount Sunday, Almon said someone called police and officers arrived to collect the evidence.

"Shredding public documents is illegal," Almon said. "And I would wonder why (the bags of shredded paper) are not being kept in the evidence room."

Almon, meanwhile, said she felt good about increasing her margin of victory over Maturo. "I'll be happy when everything is counted and settled; we're kind of in flux," she said.

Maturo, although not officially conceding, admitted it didn't look as if the votes were there for him.

When Jaffe announced the end of counting Sunday night, she said, "We have a tally for the mayor's race; I'm not certifying that now."

She said nothing will happen today because of Veterans Day observances, which close Town Hall. She said the count will be completed Tuesday for the other offices and she will call Bysiewicz "for guidance."

Jaffe noted she has 10 days after the election to certify the results, so she is still within that time frame.

She said the discrepancy could stem from human error. Noting this was the first year for new voting machines that use scanners instead of levers, Jaffe said, "There needs to be more fine-tuning done."

"Because the system is so new," some people don't understand what they're supposed to do, Jaffe said. "They might get a ballot, make a mistake on it, then go to the clerk and get a second one."

But Jaffe then said she doesn't think this is what necessarily happened.

If sworn in Saturday as scheduled, Almon would be the town's first woman mayor and the youngest to serve.

Her father, Frank Capone, watched the recount in the Town Hall lobby. Capone said his daughter is a hard worker and a caring person. He said her nickname as a child was "Switzerland" because she didn't like to take sides.

"She'd always negotiate or try to let things work themselves out," he said

On the other side in the foyer, the votes were counted at tables manned by six people sets of Republicans and Democrats, so each vote got two sets of eyes, one from each party. A lawyer from State Democratic headquarters, requested by the local party, walked around the room as votes were counted.

Maturo has been mayor since 1997 when he unseated Democrat Hank Luzzi. On Sunday, he attended Veterans Day ceremonies as part of his mayoral duties. He has assured a smooth transition.

A recount was held because the 21-vote difference in the race represented less than a half percent of the 8,020 votes cast. Also recounted because of close races were contests for Board of Finance and Town Council in three of the town's seven districts. Register reporter Randall Beach contributed to this story.


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