SOUTHINGTON, Conn. (AP) — They say every vote counts. In one Connecticut town, it really did. A race for a seat in the state Legislature has been decided by a single vote.
Nearly 10,600 ballots were cast in the race between Republican Tony Morrison and Democrat Christopher Poulos to represent the 81st Assembly District in Southington, a town about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Hartford.
The initial election night tally was tight: Poulous, a high school Spanish teacher, held a six vote lead. A mandatory recount narrowed the gap even further to just one vote.
As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, local election officials discovered after the recount that a forgotten sealed packet of ballots, votes that couldn’t be read by the electronic scanners, wasn’t included in the final tally. That meant Poulos and Morrison, a member of the town's finance board, had to be called back to town hall to witness the last six votes being counted.
The result? It was a 50-50 split: two for Poulos, two for Morrison and two for neither candidate.
The finally tally stood at 5,297 to 5,296, in favor of Poulos. The Democrat's win was certified Wednesday by the Secretary of the State's Office.
“I’m surprised no one had a heart attack,” said Elaine Bedard, the town's Democratic registrar of voters.
Connecticut was not alone in this election cycle when it came to razor-thin margins.
A review of elections data tabulated by The Associated Press found legislative races in Iowa, Arizona, Arkansas, Montana and Vermont — and a dozen in New Hampshire, which has a 400-member House of Representatives — where the candidates were separated by 10 votes or fewer.
A recount in one of those races ended in a 970-970 tie between Republican David Walker and incumbent Democrat Rep. Chuck Grassie. State lawmakers could vote and select a winner, force the candidates to share the seat with half a vote each or send the matter back to the community for a special election.
As news of his one-vote victory spread, Poulos and his wife received numerous texts and calls from people who thought they might be responsible for that one last winning vote.
They heard from a friend who drove past her polling place, only to turn back in her driveway after remembering Poulos was on the ballot; a stranger who told the couple's 15-year-old daughter that he crossed party lines to support a Democrat for the first time; and a woman who persuaded her husband to “take a chance” on Poulos, a one-time state teacher of the year.
“There’s dozens of stories. I’m totally grateful for the support, people’s confidence in me," said Poulos, who served two terms on the Southington Town Council.
Morrison said Wednesday that he's bothered that the initial vote tally and the tally in the recount produced different numbers, but doesn't believe he has much recourse at this point. Any challenge of the final results would have to be made to the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, which would be unlikely to side with the Republican.
“I'm not going to challenge anything,” Morrison said.
Stephen Kalkowski, chair of the Southington Republican Town Committee, marveled at the margin between the candidates, which stood at 0.009%.
“Six was bad enough when we thought he lost by six on election night. But then, to have it come down to one vote after the recount, it’s just so frustrating. It’s so close,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people right now that are sitting back saying, ‘Oh, my God, I should have got in my car and I should have went down to the polls.’ Right? But again, it’s their personal choice.”
Everything from the recount was sealed and stored in a locked room at town hall in case any further review became necessary, said August Palmer, Southington's Republican registrar of voters.
Palmer, who has also been involved in local politics for decades, said he can empathize with how the candidates are likely feeling right now.
“I'll tell you exactly what they're thinking. They're thinking about their friends who didn't show up to vote," said Palmer, who had someone call him after the election and admit he didn't vote because he didn't want to travel to a new polling place.
“You hear all of these dumb reasons,” he said.
Armando Candelaria, who lives down the street from Poulos and voted for his neighbor, said he wasn’t surprised by the closeness of the tally.
“The town is really divided,” he said, describing disagreement in the community over issues such as spending on school facilities and playing fields.
The number of registered Republicans and Democrats in the town is almost equal.
The Connecticut Secretary of the State's Office doesn't compile data on the number of races in the state settled by a single vote, but it is a relatively rare occurrence. In 2002, Republican Anne Ruwet won the 65th Assembly District in Torrington, roughly a half-hour drive from Southington, by a single vote.
In 2006, a Democratic primary in Groton for a state representative seat ended up in a 457-to-457-vote tie after a provisional vote was counted. State law called for the flip of a coin to determine the ultimate victor.