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Four Votes Separate Victor, Vanquished In Conneticut Race

By Sam WalkerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 16, 1994



WILLINGTON, CONN.

DEMOCRAT Sam Gejdenson will return to Washington in January to represent Connecticut's second congressional district. Problem is, so will his Republican challenger, Edward Munster.

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Locked in one of the closest federal elections of the century, both candidates have declared victory.

Congressman Gejdeson, a seven-term Democrat, won the initial count by a subatomic margin of two votes. A precinct-by-precinct recount, completed late Nov. 14 in this town of 6,000 east of Hartford, declared Gejdeson the winner by four votes from a total of 158,336 cast.

The election represents a bizarre piece of political Americana, in a year when there was plenty to go around, and is a reminder that every vote counts.

``I am very glad to see this campaign finally come to an end,'' Mr. Gejdenson said in a statement. ``This recount has reaffirmed the wishes of our Founding Fathers - that every vote cast is important and counts, and that every voter does indeed make a difference.''

Yet in light of the GOP takeover of Congress, the actual number of votes in this race may be moot. The Munster camp contends it has observed enough discrepancies in the way ballots were counted to send the matter to the House Administration Committee, which would all but guarantee Munster the seat. At Munster's Middletown headquarters, volunteers already answer the telephones: ``Congressman-elect Munster's office.''

In the clapboard town hall here, the last precinct to be recounted, Willington residents and scores of television cameras peered at clerks as they unsealed voting machines and ticked off absentee ballots for the second time. No-show voters were kicking themselves. ``I didn't vote and now I feel terrible about it,'' says Freda Koulisis of Willington. ``Never in my wildest dreams did I think one vote could make such a difference.''

While turnout was a hearty 76 percent in tiny Willington, Pat Godbout, the town clerk, says not all of it was on the level. Four voters - enough to tip the entire election - cast write-in ballots. Their choices: Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Your Mama, and a local fourth-grader named Billy. ``I think this proves that your vote really counts,'' Ms. Godbout says.

Yet to the Republicans on hand, irregular ballots were no laughing matter. In some precincts, they say, absentee ballots with ``extraneous marks'' were counted, while in others, they were not. Ben Ginsburg, a Republican attorney, says that Munster will review all the evidence before deciding whether to contest the election, but left little doubt that he would.

``My opinion is that there are enough irregularities found throughout the process that it will go to the House of Representatives for a vote,'' says John Mastropietro, state GOP chairman. ``I'll be surprised if Ed Munster doesn't wind up in Washington.''

For likely Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the race is a chance for sweet revenge. In a 1984 cliffhanger, Democrat Frank McCloskey won the initial count by three votes, but two subsequent recounts showed Republican Richard McIntyre winning by 10 votes. After an investigation led by Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill, Mr. McCloskey was seated. Congressman Gingrich led the GOP delegation in a walkout to protest the decision. Now he may have the chance to return the favor.

Whatever the outcome, the close nature of the election speaks volumes about this district. In the 1992 race, Gejdenson barely held off Munster, a state senator, by two percentage points.

``They call this the land of steady habits,'' says Willington selectman Roger Perry. ``People [here] like to think for themselves. They tend to vote for the candidate and not the party.''