Waiting for New Haven Republicans to emerge from the shadows and vote Tuesday, Nancy Ahern had lots of time to catch up on her reading.
Ahern, a former alderwoman and longtime poll worker, was one of five people staffing the voting station at Edgewood School for Tuesday’s Republican gubernatorial primary pitting Tom Foley against John McKinney. Foley won the race statewide, and in New Haven. But not with many votes in New Haven. (Click here for the statewide story.)
Edgewood School is usually a citadel of democracy on voting days: high turnout, PTO bank sales, lines to votes, signs and campaigners galore heralding voters arriving outside.
Tuesday it was a ghost town. No bake sales. No campaign workers. And almost no voters.
Which disappointed Ahern immensely. She appreciated the chance to read Archer Mayor’s latest mystery novel, Paradise City (set in Northampton, where Ahern attended Smith College in her undergraduate years). But she would have preferred to see New Haven Republicans, rare breed as they are, exercise their democratic rights.
“We may be choosing our next governor today!” Ahern observed. “I have never in my missed an opportunity to vote.” She rued that voters doesn’t do the same—“especially women, considering what we’ve gone through” to win the right to vote.
Citywide, turnout was 14 percent among Republicans: a total of 343 out of 2,424 registered Republicans cast ballots. Foley beat McKinney 176 to 151 in the city. Three polling stations saw zero voters all day. Only 11 out of 40 reached double digits.
Click here to view the ward-by-ward vote breakdown in all of Tuesday’s races.
That 14 percent turnout was even lower than in the last GOP primary, in 2012, a presidential primary. Close to 20 percent of registered New Haven Republicans voted in that primary.
The turnout was clearly trending lower this year by all appearances at the polls Tuesday. Some precincts, like Ward 2 at Troup School, reported 0 voters as of late morning; others reported a handful. Under state law, however, the city had to hire four-to-five person teams at each of 40 polling stations. (Read about that here.)
So dozens of people had nothing to do for long stretches Tuesday.
There weren’t even any sightings of campaign workers for either of the two Republican gubernatorial candidates, Tom Foley and John McKinney. No vote-pullers. No “literature” distributors.
Ahern attributed the anemic turnout to a combination of factors: An August primary date (when many people are away). No visible effort by the candidates to bring voters to the polls. (They concentrated on their bases in Fairfield County.) The state of Republicanism in New Haven (near-dead).
There was some political excitement in New Haven Tuesday—among Democrats. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy dropped in to the city’s party campaign headquarters on Fitch Street to rally the troops, 30 of whom were phone-banking for the governor, who’s in a tough reelection fight. The most recent polls showed both of the Republicans running in Tuesday’s primary as leading Malloy in the genera-election match-up. Malloy has visited New Haven so often recently that he almost qualifies as a resident; the city provided close to three times his statewide margin of victory four years ago, a local landslide he’ll need to enjoy again to keep his office.
“We’re not going to spend more money than Republicans, but we’re not going to be outworked,” Murphy told the Fitch Street gathering.
After his remarks, he offered this take on the low GOP voter turnout: “Very few people care about this Republican primary because nobody’s excited about either of these candidates. It’s as simple as that. In New Haven the contrast couldn’t be clearer: You’ve got only a handfuls of voters trickling in at some precincts, and you’ve got a room full of people [here] making calls for somebody who’s not even on the ballot today. So the enthusiasm gap between the two campaigns is startling.”
More Democrats Show Up To Vote
In East Rock, where both Ward 9 and Ward 10 had polling stations set up in Wilbur Cross High School, more Democrats had up—in confusion—than Republicans by 1 p.m.
“I just told them it was a Republican Primary” and sent them away, said moderator Barbara Bell.
Besides the state of boredom, Bell said, working conditions were not ideal. She spoke with a thick white blanket wrapped around her body, as another staffer shouted across the atrium, “It’s freezing in here!” Two Wilbur Cross High School staff members standing nearby agreed and pledged to call the custodial staff.
In the meantime, seven people had entered the polling location, but none to vote: Six people were looking for the school office and one was the second moderator, returning from lunch.
The Ward 19 voting location in Prospect Hill, Celetano School, saw a similar turnout. Four people had shown in the morning before a lull.
At 11:47 a.m., a Chinese food deliveryman drove up to the back door. Three polling staffers tucked in to lunch.
At 12:17 p.m., a Fed-Ex truck pulled up, but he was not there to vote.
At 12:20 p.m., a non-delivery vehicle entered the school’s driveway, but the promise of a voter faded when it pulled into the longer-term faculty spots far from the voting entrance.
Real, Live, Breathing Voter Spotted!
Frank Dolyak had lots of company when he voted Tuesday—just not any company from other voters.
Dolyak (pictured) showed up at Nathan Hale School at 8:40 a.m. to vote in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Five poll workers greeted him.
They finally had something to do.
Dolyak was just the ninth voter to show up at Nathan Hale since the polls opened at 6 a.m.
That made Nathan Hale, the voting spot for Morris Cove’s Ward 18, a virtual hotbed of activity Tuesday compared to other spots in New Haven. Ward 18 had 276 registered Republican voters as of last week; that’s the highest number in any of the city’s 30 wards. Westville’s Ward 25, with 228, is the only other ward with more than 146 registered Republicans. Most wards are in the double digits. Citywide, the city has 2,424 registered Republicans, compared to 48,166 Democrats, 18,023 unaffiliateds and 270 members voters signed up with minor parties, according to the most recent statistics form the Registrar of Voters office.
At the Nathan Hale Republican stronghold, poll workers carried on, with grapes, Irish soda bread—all brought from home as the party did not provide food for the primary—and ironic good cheer.
When told a reporter was going to wait for a Republican voter, poll worker Liz Fimiani replied, “Honey, you’re in for a long wait. You want us to put a couch out for you.”
Moderator Louise Coppola also lamented that no McKinney, Foley, or other candidate supporters were out in front of the polling place passing out campaign flyers.
“No one to watch or yell at,” she said.
After casting his ballot and receiving his “I voted” sticker, Dolyak had bad news for the Republican candidates: He didn’t vote for either of them. Instead, he voted for the Tea Party’s Joe Visconti, a Republican running for governor as a write-in candidate.
Interviewed after voting and receiving his “I voted” sticker, Dolyak said he cast his vote for the Tea Party candidate Joe Visconti, a write-in for the primary (though he has submitted petitions to appear on the general-election ballot as an independent in November).
Why Visconti? “All of the Northeast Republicans are moderate to left-leaning. I’m a conservative. I want to do my part to put in office people who will better run state and national affairs with all the economic and social problems we have.”
Dolyak criticized Kinney and Foley for what he characterized their shared support for the Common Core curriculum—which Doyak referred to as “dumbing down America.”
Dolyak said that most registered Republicans are not showing up because with the Democrats entrenched in New Haven over the decades, “many [Republicans] have given up.”