Updated: 10:07 pm. When 31-year-old Judia Phillips officially became a United States citizen five days ago, the judge gave her another piece of news: she would also be able to vote in the next election. Thanks to a new law, she was able to sign up to do that at the last moment.
For the first time in a Connecticut municipal election, citizens were able to register and vote on the same day. More than 200 people, including Phillips, had filled out registration forms and cast their ballots in New Haven as of 7 p.m., according to Moderator Kevin Arnold. In the past, in local and state elections, voters had to register in advance: seven days before an election if registering in person, 14 days if by mail.
Phillips, a certified nursing assistant who hails from Jamaica, registered to vote at City Hall around 11 a.m. Tuesday. She also cast a ballot there.
“Two thumbs up,” Yale student Laurel Cohen, 19, said about the experience of registering and voting in one go. She said had heard about same-day registration while canvassing and working on get-out-the-vote efforts for mayoral candidate Toni Harp. “I was sort of hoping this would take a while and I would have an excuse to be late for class,” she joked.
“When the law passed, it was not specified or required in the statute that the information be advertised,” said Cheri Quickmire, president of the Connecticut chapter of the nonprofit organization Common Cause, which dispatched volunteers to polling places in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and elsewhere Tuesday to gather information on the law’s implementation. Several voters said they had difficulty finding accurate information on the city registrar’s website and instead learned about same-day registration through news outlets or campaigns.
Kevin M. Galberth, 49, who is unemployed, said he heard about same-day registration on WTNH news Monday night. Sergio Rabino, 50, who works in construction, said he found out about the new system by word of mouth. Both called the experience efficient and pleasant.
While doing get-out-the-vote work for Democrat Sarah Eidelson’s aldermanic campaign in Ward 1, Rachel Payne, 25, learned she would be able register and vote in the same day. Payne has lived in New Haven for five years and recently moved from Winchester Avenue in Ward 22 to Orange St. in Ward 7. She said she knows the candidates in her new ward better, and the polling place is closer to where she lives, so she was happy to hear about the change.
Dennis Boughton, 70, who is wheelchair-bound, said he came into City Hall to use the bathroom and saw signs directing him towards the voting station, so he checked to see if he could register and vote at once. Lissette Miranda, 36, who also just learned of the same-day registration, said she would return later in the day with her daughter, who just turned 18. “She was frustrated that she wasn’t old enough to vote in the last election,” said Miranda. Now, same-day registration ensures her ability to participate as soon as she is legally qualified, without other deadlines to trip over.
Moderator Arnold said that the process had been running smoothly as of this evening, with elections officials in places such as West Haven and Shelton returning calls quickly to confirm that voters claiming change of address were no longer listed in their forming polling places.
“I’m very encouraged by these numbers,” said Quickmire. Less than an hour before the polls closed, an orderly line snaked out the door. Many present were Yale students, brought by friends volunteering for the campaigns in the competitive Ward 1 race. Some wore T-shirts bearing slogans of the Chandler and Eidelson camps.
Quickmire attributed the large number of new registrations in New Haven to the handful of contested elections here and the historic mayoral election.
“It isn’t gangbusters, but it’s going well,” said Arnold. “It’s our first time, so we didn’t know what to expect.”
The newly passed law was originally proposed 25 years ago, according to Quickmire. “It just hadn’t been made a priority,” she said.
Nine other states allow voters to register at their polling places on Election Day: Montana, Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Idaho, and New Hampshire.
Quickmire said she hopes that same-day registration might expand from one location in each city or town to every polling place – and that in the future, residents will be able to register through the state Department of Social Services as well.
“I had expected to get mostly people registering from Yale, Ward 1, East Rock – those places,” said Arnold. “But it’s really been a mixture of voters from across the city. It’s at least a 50-50 mix of Yale students and people from other places.”
In order to register, a resident must appear in person at City Hall (165 Church St.) and declare under oath that he or she has not already voted in this election. One must complete a voter registration form and provide ID (a birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card, or photo college ID). If the ID doesn’t show one’s address, one must provide proof of residency with a piece of mail such as a utility bill, lease, paycheck, or property tax bill.
On average, the whole process of new registration and voting took less than five minutes.