Share this article

print logo

A CLOSE CONGRESSIONAL RACE, INDEED

So, you believe your vote doesn't matter? Think again.

Nov. 8, Democratic Congressman Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District claimed a 200-vote victory over his Republican rival, Edward Munster, only to see his lead diminish to the narrowest of margins the next day. After all the votes were counted, a mere two votes separated Gejdenson from Munster. The official tally was 79,169 for Gejdenson, 79,167 for Munster, and 27,729 from the third-party candidacy of Dr. David Bingham, who ran on the A Connecticut Party ticket.

Connecticut state law requires a recount if the winning margin is within one-half of one percent of the total vote. That doesn't sound like much, but such a lead -- more than 900 ballots -- would have made Gejdenson look as if he won the race by a country mile in comparison. But a mere two votes, in a district that encompasses 54 towns and cities, promised a week of see-saw emotions for exhausted campaign workers while all the ballots were painstakingly recounted as the law required.

Thus began the Race That Would Not Die, or the Election That Would Not End, while 2nd District voters, most sick to death of politics, watched first one man, then the other, take the lead in the race as town after town recounted their ballots.

First Gejdenson maintained his two-vote lead. Munster gained a few votes in a handful of small towns, then rocketed ahead when the city of Norwich, which had experimented with a new method of tabulating ballots on election day, reconfigured the ballots for both men. Out of 12,000 votes, Gejdenson lost 22 votes and Munster lost nine, resulting in a net gain of 13 for Munster. After another 13 towns held recounts Friday, Munster was ahead by 14 votes.

But by Saturday night, when another six towns held recounts, Munster lost his entire lead in one town, Old Saybrook.

The race was tied, leading many to wonder if the race wouldn't be decided in the House of Representatives. Article 1, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution makes Congress the ultimate authority on what congressman will be seated: "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns, and the Qualifications of its own Members," the section states.

In reality, the race could be decided by the House, tie or no tie.

It's happened before. In 1984, Democratic incumbent Congressman Frank McCloskey apparently won the 8th Indiana Congressional District race against Republican Richard D. McIntyre by 72 votes. Then, on a recount, McIntyre was declared the winner. Because of alleged discrepancies in the balloting, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill appointed a committee of two Democrats and one Republican to decide which man should be seated as the 8th District representative. To nobody's surprise, the committee voted 2-1 along party lines to seat Democrat McCloskey. The Republicans walked out in protest. But it didn't change the results. Would such a scenario play itself out in the 2nd District race?

Last Monday was the final day of the recount. In the afternoon, Munster lost enough votes in the shoreline town of Stonington to put him four votes behind Gejdenson. At 6 p.m., little Willington, population 5,850, would decide which man would sit in Congress. It was the last town in the district scheduled to recount its ballots.

Before I drove to Willington, I talked to voters at a local country store. There was a lot of soul-searching going on. Even some who voted for Gejdenson wondered about the prospect of having a Democratic congressman in a House dominated by Republicans. And the closeness of this election would make the GOP especially unhappy if, in the end, Gejdenson pulled out enough votes to win. Wouldn't projects important to the district be killed out of spite if Gejdenson won?

Oh, for the benefit of hindsight.

That night, Willington town hall gleamed on the town green, surrounded by satellite dishes and klieg lights, a startling sight in small town New England. The recount went deliberately, with town officials occasionally banging a gavel for quiet above the noise of the assembled reporters crowded around the registrars. But in the end, the vote was unchanged.

Gejdenson had won by four votes, doubling his election night margin of victory. The final tally was Gejdenson, 79,160, Munster, 79,156.

Gejdenson supporters cheered while a lawyer for Munster vowed to take the matter to the state Superior Court and to the House of Representatives, if necessary, to challenge the results. State GOP Chairman John Mastropietro agreed, citing ballot "discrepancies."

Even though the recount was supervised by Democratic and Republican voter registrars and representatives of both campaigns, lawyers could argue the matter in court if similar write-in ballots with extraneous marks on them were interpreted different ways in different towns.

Then, if all else fails, the House of Representatives could step in and decide the matter, led by verbal bomb-throwing Newt Gingrich.

My neighbors in the country store needn't have worried. The people have spoken. But it looks as if the lawyers, then the politicians, will have the final say.

MAURA CASEY is associate editorial page editor for The Day of New London, Conn.

There are no comments - be the first to comment