A recount in the West Haven mayoral race is underway on Sunday after a little over two dozen votes separated the candidates on Election Day.
The West Haven registrar’s office finished counting Tuesday night’s ballots and in the end, 29 votes separated West Haven’s mayoral candidates, Democrat Nancy Rossi and Republican Barry Lee Cohen.
With the margin of victory less than half a percent, a recount is taking place on Sunday.
“Absolutely I was worried. No question about it,” said Rossi of election night.
As the numbers started coming into campaign headquarters, Rossi wasn’t sure she’d have a reason to celebrate.
“I did not expect it to be this close. I figured it maybe be a couple hundred votes,” she said.
In 2019, Rossi, a Democrat, received over 5,000 votes. Her Republican opponent received just over 3,000 of the votes, a difference of more than 1,800 votes.
This year, the difference is a mere 29 votes in a city where there are four times more Democrats registered to vote than Republicans.
According to the Secretary of the State’s Office, the voter registration breakdown in West Haven is:
Rossi blamed disgruntled Democrats, and what she called “misinformation” about an FBI investigation into the city’s missing Covid relief funds.
Samara Llinet said it influenced her vote on Tuesday.
“It bothers me because you cannot put just one person in so much power of money,” said Llinet.
Cohen is calling on Rossi to resign regardless of the recount. In his calls for resignation, he refers to an FBI fraud investigation into the alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID relief funds.
A city employee tasked with overseeing the fund meant to help the city through the pandemic was arrested for allegedly stealing $636,000. Though Rossi said she was the one who found the discrepancy and reported it, some voters said the mayor should accept some responsibility that it happened in the first place and wasn't discovered until six months later.
“I’m not happy with that at all,” said Christopher Roman outside his polling place Tuesday night. “I’m not gonna vote that way because all that happened.”
“I think a lot of people are confused with the investigation going on at city hall. I don’t think it did Rossi any good, but at least she was honest and she brought it out,” said Louis Chiarella, who said he supported Rossi but thought it was premature for her to claim victory.
“I don’t hold her fully responsible, but she should be held responsible for some of it. Not necessarily removing her, but she needs to be accountable for something,” said Roberta Garlock, who noted Tuesday night that she hoped the scandal wouldn't influence voters.
Rossi said she will not resign, but Cohen said he doesn't believe the public can trust her.
Inside City Hall Tuesday night, Cohen, and his team demanded officials show them where the ballots were being stored, asked for a count of the ballot bags, and stood by as the votes were locked away in a vault.
When asked to comment Wednesday, Cohen said in a statement, “We are committed to ensuring that every vote is counted properly.”
Tuesday night, Cohen told supporters, “I am not defeated. I am determined.”
On Sunday, workers are setting aside ballots that look like they might have a problem being counted by the machine such as the bubble not being filled in correctly. They’ll hand count the ones that are questionable, put the rest through the counting machines, and combine the results.
“The process of counting by hand these ballots that might not have been read right by the machine usually end up with a small number of votes more for each candidate,” said Luther Weeks, Connecticut Citizen Election Audit executive director.
Weeks, who has participated in many election recounts or “recanvasses” as he calls them, said they typically benefit the candidate who’s already in the lead even if the candidate trailing picks up a few more votes.
“The least likely is there is some addition error, some transcription error, so there’s a large difference uncovered,” said Weeks.