Lessons Sought From Voting Fiasco

Paul Bass PhotoMarkeshia Ricks PhotoHours after most Connecticut communities had reported their election results, New Haven’s leading voting official arrived at Edgewood School by 1:30 a.m. Wednesday with a team of election workers and began counting 1,968 ballots. By hand.

“Congress,” the official, Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans, called out. “Rosa DeLauro.”

The three workers in front of her, Deputy Registrar Liz DeMatteo,  Arthur Natalino, and Eddie Camp, wrote down what she said.

“State Senate,” Evans continued. “Gary.” She was referring to incumbent Gary Winfield.

The trio picked up their pens once more.

Fifteen minutes later, they were on ballot number three. One thousand nine hundred sixty-five to go.

Westville Alder Adam Marchand arrived with boxes of ham sandwiches left over from a campaign headquarters. It was going to be a long night.

Evans had been awake and at work since 3 a.m. the day before. She had been racing around New Haven all Tuesday and Tuesday night to polling places where, as at the Ward 25 operation at Edgewood, voting machines had broken. Truman School. Wilbur Cross. Wexler-Grant. Troup ... Election workers had worked past midnight rescanning ballots into replacement tabulators. Edgewood had gone through three machines. The first two apparently broke because voters dripping with rain from outside submitted wet ballots that shut down the machines. A third machine had an electrical malfunction. Over at Mauro Sheridan School, several machines had jammed. Water didn’t seem to be the problem.

Sonya Schoenberger Photo“This is crazy,” Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison, who had been at Wexler Grant’s Ward 22 polls since 6:30 the morning before, remarked while waiting for new machines at at 1:30 a.m. “In eight years, I’ve never seen anything like this happen.

“We can’t even get mad because we’re not the only ones this happened to. We just got to wait our turn.”


The machine menace was one of two train wrecks for the voting process in New Haven this election. The other concerned Election Day Registration (EDR) and voting. Hundreds of people waited up to four hours to cast ballots at City Hall because only two deputy registrars (including DeMatteo) were on hand most of the day to input their information into the secretary of the state office’s database. An emergency visit from secretary of the state office lawyers helped enable hundreds to sign up in time for an 8 p.m. deadline in order to vote, using an unorthodox method to speed up the process: Having dozens en masse raise their hands and attest orally that they were first-time Connecticut voters. (That led to an evening of legal wrangling.)

Democratic Registrar Evans reflected on the Election Day scrambling Wednesday morning while taking a brief break in the sleep-deprived registrar’s office for her first bite of food in more than a day.

“It was very frustrating with all the machines breaking,” she said. “At the end of the day, voters were able to vote.”

Merrill: No Excuse

Markeshia Ricks PhotoThe state official responsible for elections, Denise Merrill, said many communities experienced wet-ballot breakdowns and other machine malfunctions, too. (Including in New York.) New Haven has more machines and voters than most other communities in the state; the machine breakdowns didn’t signal an inherent problem there, she said.

She had a different take on the EDR chaos, which was a rerun of similar breakdowns in 2014 and 2016.

“I think that they were very unprepared for election day registration. I don’t think there is any excuse for that. It has happened before,” said Merrill, who was reelected Tuesday as secretary of the state.

She noted that local officials later in the day deputized Yale law students to help process the new registrations in the state’s system. That can be done, and can be planned for in advance, she said.

“Granted, it was a larger than expected turnout. But we did advise them: Expect a larger turnout,” Merrill said.

Merrill said she plans to reintroduce proposals to make the process easier, including early voting, no-fault absentee voting (meaning anyone can submit ballots), and mail-in voting.


Mayor Toni Harp said Tuesday’s problems provided lessons for improving the process in the meantime.

For one, she said, the city should deputize more people in advance to sign up election day registrants. She also suggested that they not all have to come to City Hall, but rather have them able to register at ward poling places.

“There should have been an adequate number of people. Ask for help before. Have a plan and ask for help before,” Harp said. (She noted that she does not have authority as mayor to make decisions about how to run the election. The local registrar and the secretary of the state have that authority.)

She also suggested working with local colleges like Yale to help students register in time rather than crash City Hall on Election Day. An estimated 80-90 percent of the hundreds of people waiting hours at a time in EDR lines Tuesday were from Yale. Many said they came because of problems with out-of-state absentee ballots or other confusion.

As for the broken machines, “we’ve got to take a look at our scanners and come up with a way when weather is an issue to remind people that they have something to protect the ballots to give to people who look like they may have a wet jacket. It can create quite a problem.”

Harp noted that the registrar’s office recently entered into a contract with a consultant who observed Tuesday’s election and will recommend improvements for future elections.

“If we put our heads together,” Harp said, “we’ll be able to have a [better] process.”

Still At It


Back at Edgewood School at 9 a.m. Wednesday, students and teachers were in class. In the gym, two vote-counters remained: Alder Marchand and Democratic Party attorney Sue Weisselberg.

The hand-counting had gone on for hours during the night, they said, but hit a wall. Fortunately, two more machines arrived—and they worked. The crew switched to feeding the ballots into them, producing two print-outs of results. (They explain more in the above video)  Now Marchand was reading off the sets of numbers.

“Nine-one-four plus 789,” he reported, as Weisselberg did the addition on her cellphone calculator.

At the municipal office building at 200 Orange St., counting of EDR ballots continued.

By day’s end, it seemed, Connecticut would have official totals of New Haven’s vote. By week’s end, New Haven was to receive a detailed ward-by-ward official breakdown of the total vote, including absentee ballots.

The 2019 primary election is ten months away.

Sonya Schoenberger contributed reporting.

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: DrJay on November 7, 2018  5:24pm

A few suggestions and a question. First, let’s get a new Registrar of Voters. This should be a civil service position, not elected. But as long as it is elected, we need someone who can do the job.
Second, planning in advance for same day registrations is a no- brainier. Have more help lined up.
Third- If wet ballots are a problem, have the moderator feed ballots into machine instead of voters. Wet ones can be put aside until they dry.
Question- did the two sided ballot make the machines fail more often? Was this tested in advance? Certainly made hand recount harder. Other towns had a longer single sided ballot.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on November 7, 2018  5:44pm

Drjay, having the moderator feed the ballot would be unworkable when there is a two-sided ballot - ballot secrecy is fundamental. Even with a one-sided ballot, I suspect many people would have concerns.

One low-tech idea - if it is raining or snowing on Election Day, provide paper towels for people to dry their hands before receiving a ballot.

posted by: thecove on November 7, 2018  6:47pm

Same day registration.  Bad idea. Period.

posted by: TheMadcap on November 7, 2018  7:33pm

“Bad idea”

It actually worked fine in most of the state, as well as numerous other states.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 7, 2018  7:52pm

posted by: thecove on November 7, 2018 5:47pm
Same day registration.  Bad idea. Period.

From what I see.It is not the Fault of Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans I heard the machines that they are using is over fifteen years old.

These 12 States Have The Most Outdated Voting Machines

n the following 12 states, all the voting machines are at least 10 years old: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Utah.


posted by: tmctague on November 7, 2018  9:12pm

Ah, so it was Yale’s fault?  Should’ve known!  #taxyale

posted by: mcg2000 on November 7, 2018  9:16pm

The ballots got wet from wet clothes dripping onto them, too. That’s what happened to my first, spoiled ballot.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on November 7, 2018  10:20pm

Three-fifths, do you have any evidence in CT’s other cities and towns have newer voting machines than New Haven? I doubt it - it would be politically stupid for the Democratic Secretary of the State to disadvantage the city that produces the state’s biggest Democratic margins. Every other municipality reported complete results before New Haven. And do you have any evidence that municipalities in Massachusetts or New Jersey, which also have old voting machines, experienced a melt-down comparable to New Haven’s?

posted by: Noteworthy on November 7, 2018  10:55pm

After running elections for more than 200 years, the concept that there is something to learn is bullshit. We have an incompetent mayor and a more incompetent registrar of voters. $1.6 million dollars and this is the BS we get. KMA.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 7, 2018  11:46pm

@ Kevin McCarthy

I said I heard I heard the machines that they are using is over fifteen years old.And upon read about old machines you have problems some time.

posted by: ethanjrt on November 8, 2018  1:14am

Hasn’t there been some fiasco every single election with these registrars? During the primaries it was an adventure to even locate my polling place, since no one bothered with signs. Special shame on Evans because this is a Democratic town. You’ve got 2-3 days a year when everything needs to go smooth as butter—and it’s your responsibility, no one else’s. Not prepared for rain? Not prepared for same day registration? Anywhere else, you would be out of a job. If the party doesn’t nominate someone new next year, I’m writing a name in.

Also, +1 to everything DrJay said.

posted by: ethanjrt on November 8, 2018  1:19am

Deja vu: https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/election_result_ne/

posted by: JCFremont on November 8, 2018  9:44am

Might we call it the Committee of Common Sense? First off New Haven has shown it can not handle Day of Registration, end it! Tell the Yalie’s like class registration, the registration closes November 1st. Does Yale still close classes or are they afraid the student will show up with a lawyer? Maybe you can do it after the 1st if you are renewing or getting a Connecticut Drivers License at the DMV. Second, if Joe Biden can walk into Laguardia Airports Main Terminal and declare it looks like a Third World Country (Joe was it too much Formica or was it the people you where referring too?) Anyway, why in 2018 New Haven managed to make itself look like a combination of a 19th century outpost, with the poor villagers waiting in the rain with their X marked ballots blurring and fading, and an Old Time corrupt Tammy Ward machine. The old mechanical lever machines where without a doubt the most secure and efficient. Understand that the cost of repair and of course the guy who new how to repair them died, but how did we manage to go backwards? Oh yeah it’s run by the State of Connecticut. Hey are new governor’s business glory occurred in the 1980’s so I guess we’re moving forward.

posted by: 1644 on November 8, 2018  11:23am

Ou-of-town Republicans sent “challengers” to suppress the vote.  New Haven Democrats pushed them aside, saying, “Hold my beer.”

posted by: 1644 on November 8, 2018  11:39am

3/5’s. You state that all the machine’s in CT are at least 10 years old.  Why, then, do other towns not have the problems New Haven has?

Ethan:  Paul can just change the dates on the stories, using the find and replace function.  Otherwise, the characters and the chaos remains the same.

posted by: Ex-HVN on November 8, 2018  12:12pm


Parties can’t nominate anyone for Registrar of Voters next year. Those nominations take place in even years.

You can try and write in a name, but only recognized write in candidates have their votes counted. Votes for Mickey Mouse, etc. are not counted.

Disclaimer, I served as Assistant Registrar of Voters in my Town at the largest polling location. Our machines are just as old, but we tested them at 5AM to make sure they work. One was bad and we immediately installed a backup..then called for a new backup to be delivered before the polls opened.  We had exactly one ballot that could not be read by the machine at the end of the day that had to be hand counted.
We sent out for a few bundles of paper towels so voters could dry hands before getting ballots, money well spent.

posted by: 1644 on November 8, 2018  2:17pm

While most towns I checked had the registrars on the ballot for this year,  I didn’t see them on New Haven’s sample ballots.  Anyone know why the registrars wouldn’t have been on the ballot?  It’s. a state office, just like Judge or Probate.

posted by: 1644 on November 8, 2018  6:21pm

It’s Groundhog Day in New Haven:


posted by: ElmCitier on November 8, 2018  11:57pm

Can someone out there run against Shannel Evans?  She clearly may end up costing Democrats votes during state elections.

posted by: Ex-HVN on November 9, 2018  8:17am

Just some observations….....................
#1 The Registrar of Voters (one from each party) are elected part-time officials. This is NOT a highly paid full time job.
#2 All year long the full time Asst. Registrars civil servants run the office)
#3 Most spoiled or unable to be read ballots are filled out by people who don’t read English well. Cities have more non-English Speakers than suburbs and this delays getting results at the end of the day as ballots may have to be re-fed through the tabulators or hand counted.
#4 Early voting would ease the situation on Elections Day, BUT Connecticut Voters REJECTED early voting with a ballot question in 201
#5 Turnout this year was huge. There is no way to predict turnout. The Registrar gets a limited budget for poll workers, etc. She can’t just add staff. Everyone has to be trained, paid and fed.
Those working at the polls have to be there from 5AM until every ballot has been through the tabulator, reports printed, read aloud, and posted on the wall, all equipment packed for return to storage. All check in books balanced to that ballots cast equal names checked off.

As an Asst. Registrar, my day started at 4AM, picking up the tabulators with my Republican counterpart and transporting them to the polling place. It ended at 11PM when we had delivered the machines and tabulation report tapes back to the Registrar’s office.
The checkers, ballot monitors and other poll workers were at the polling place from 5 AM til 10 PM. They got one 20 minute lunch break and no one got a supper break because it was too busy. Not many people want to work a 17 hour shift plus attend unpaid training prior to election day. Most of these workers are retired senior citizens, as younger people have jobs and other commitments precluding their service.

Lastly, The weather stank. Under the HAVA we ha d to go out in the pouring rain so that non-ambulatory voters could cast their ballots while in their cars.
Most voters have no idea how a poll runs

posted by: Lois Lane on November 9, 2018  8:50am

Seriously? Same day registration is absurd. If elections are so important, one would think people would register well in advance of election day. Are there extenuating circumstances? Perhaps for a few. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Certainly, those Yalies should know better.

posted by: 1644 on November 9, 2018  8:59am

exHVN:  New Haven’s ballots are written in Spanish as well as English.  So long as a voter is proficient in one of those languages,  they should be good to go.  For naturalized citizens, of course, English proficiency is required specifically for such occasions.  The exceptions would be Puerto Ricans and, perhaps, some southwest folks. (My niece married into a family who never crossed the border, but the border crossed them.)
As for budget, as per my link above, the New Haven registrars are clueless as to managing the money they do have. 
Turnout in New Haven is far lower than turnout in the suburbs, yet New Haven still struggles.  I haven’t compared this year’s figures, but in the past, New Haven and Branford had EDR registrants proportional to their populations (in spite of no students in Branford).  Yet, New Haven had the same number of EDR staff as Branford. New Haven needs to staff according to its population, or get the idiot Yalies to register beforehand by really working with the campus political groups.  Haci, Adam, Decker all know the campus.

posted by: Ex-HVN on November 9, 2018  10:15am

Many voters/citizens are illiterate in two languages…...................
Proficiency to pass a citizenship exam may be lost over the years when English is not used in everyday life.
I handled a number of 18 and 19 year old first time voters who were locally born children of Mexican immigrants. They had no command of the English language. Our ballots were in English only. We had a wall poster of the Ballot Questions in Spanish, but not the ballots. As Asst. Registrar I was empowered to translate.

posted by: Ex-HVN on November 9, 2018  10:22am


There is nothing wrong with 10 year old voting tabulating machines…They have only about two days use per year.
It’s important that they be fully tested before Election Day, so they are ready to go.
Our biggest problem was the ribbons for the tapes were dried out. The spare ribbons, may have been new in package, but sitting in hot storage for years they dry out.  New ribbons must be purchased for each election.

The tabulators have to be run through Battery Backups in case of a power outage. Many of these are old and don’t hold a charge. We changed out UPS units twice during the day when they started to blink.

posted by: 1644 on November 9, 2018  1:13pm

ex-hvn:  Well, if voters aren’t literate in any language, it really doesn’t matter what language we print the ballots in, does it?  We simply need the labor intensive step of having readers like yourself.  If we have Connecticut natives who cannot read English, our educational system is failing miserably. Perhaps we are too indulgent of non-English speakers in everyday life if those who have attended 12 plus years of school here or taken a English proficiency test are unable to read English.  My own observations of oral conversations in East Haven and Bridgeport is that the parents speak Spanish or Portuguese and the toddler kids speak English.  I know my town’s ballots were English only, while we do have a large population of EEL students in our schools.  Nonetheless, we didn’t suffer the problems New Haven did, even though New Haven had Spanish on its ballots. 
  I do know the machines are tested throughly before each elections, the town clerk is heavily involved in the election, working with both part-time registrars, ordering ballots for every registered voter, etc.  All our poll workers are elderly, but there was no meaningful line, ever, in spite of a 63% turnout of registered voters.  Our current town clerk is unaffiliated elected as a Republican, her predecessor a Democrat.  Both took their responsibility to run smooth elections very seriously.