Double breakdowns in New Haven’s elections Tuesday have thrown the city’s vote-count into chaos — and prompted Republican gubernatorial Bob Stefanowski to go to court to segregate some of the city’s ballots.
The chaos stemmed from two separate developments during Election Day voting.
One was the malfunctioning of voting machines. Apparently, voters still dripping from the rain filled out wet ballots, which then broke tabulating machines. After the polls closed at 8 p.m., moderators were unable to count and announce results in precincts all over town because of the broken machines, including in Dwight’s Ward 2, the Hill’s Ward 4, East Rock’s Ward 9, Dixwell’s Ward 22, Edgewood’s Ward 24, and Westville’s Ward 25 and Ward 26.
Officials were getting conflicting instructions about whether to count segregated ballots by hand, wait for new machines to arrive to count them or bring the ballots down to the Hall of Records for tabulation.
Stefanowski Files Injunction
Meanwhile, the city was overwhelmed by hundreds of voters at a time who wanted to register and vote Tuesday under the state’s Election Day Registration (EDR) program. It was the third straight year that people waited in line to register and vote.
People waited four hours to vote.
By day’s end it appeared that hundreds of the people in line — mostly Yale students — wouldn’t be able to register in time (8 p.m.) to cast ballots. “Let us vote!” they chanted.
The secretary of the state’s office — which was aware that New Haven had had the same crisis in the last two even-year elections — dispatched “every volunteer attorney we had down there to help them,” said the office’s spokesperson, Gabe Rosenberg.
The attorneys advised New Haven to separate first-time voters from the rest of the line. Under the law, those first-time voters were allowed to attest en masse that they’d never voted before in Connecticut, and move right ahead to step three. Officials had those students attest all at once by voice. That got rid of the back-up.
“Out of an abundance of caution,” officials had set aside that special group’s votes in case questions get raised later.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski’s gubernatorial campaign filed an injunction in Hartford Superior Court to make sure ballots cast after 8 p.m. by voters who registered that day were segregated from the totals.
Stefanowski’s campaign hired Herb Shephardson to file the injunction to make sure New Haven and Mansfield segregated those ballots.
Kendall Marr, a spokesman for Stefanowski’s campaign, said they are only trying to make sure the law is followed.
Click here and here to read about similar problems in past years with election day registration and voting. Click on the video to hear Arnold explain the problem and meet some of the people waiting online.
Marc Bradley, campaign manager for gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, issued this statement about the wait at City Hall: “These are signs of exceptional assignment. People are doing whatever they can despite the obstacles in their way to exercise their right to vote at a time when Connecticut’s values are under attack. The passion is simply extraordinary. Every citizen should be able to vote, and we need to ease the process for voters — not put up barriers.”
Root Of The Problem
EDR involves a three-step process.
The first and third steps of the process were moving quickly. Step one involves having a city worker verify that a person lives in New Haven and isn’t already registered. Step three involves going into the aldermanic chambers to cast a ballot.
Step two? Waiting for hours to actually have a deputy registrar of voters go into the secretary of the state’s database and register a person to vote.
Only two people, deputy registrars Liz DeMatteo and Marlene Napolitano, were doing that job most of the day. That’s why it took so long. More people couldn’t help because only a small number of people are certified to work in the database, Arnold explained.
But by 5 p.m. Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans joined the crew to add a third person to the task.
Kevin Arnold, moderator of Election Day Registration in New Haven, estimated that roughly 80 to 90 percent of the people in line were Yale University students who hadn’t registered on time. He said that if they had registered before Tuesday, they could have voted in 15 minutes rather than four hours.
Patrycja Gorska, a sophomore at Yale, was camped out at City Hall since about 11:30 a.m. trying to register to vote and then cast her ballot. She finally got to vote around 3:30 p.m. She said she had intended to vote by an absentee ballot in her home state of Illinois but the Democrats there seemed to have the election in hand. Seeing that the gubernatorial contest here in Connecticut is a tight one between the two parties, she decided to vote here.
“I felt like my vote would be more meaningful here,” she said.
Gorska noted that despite the long wait people had been patient, even saving spots in line for people so that they could go to the bathroom. Given the long wait times, she was especially concerned that many of the people standing in line wouldn’t actually get to vote by the time polls close at 8 p.m.
Arnold had come to that same conclusion. He said that the registration process would end exactly at 8 p.m. Everyone registered and in line to vote at 8 p.m. can vote.
Yale grad student Joshua Narcisse had to make some of his own timing calculations. He was registered to vote in New York but his absentee ballot never made it to Connecticut. He could have driven all the way to Queens to vote and then come back which would have round trip taken him about four hours. Or he could stand in line for about three hours at City Hall and help the Democrats and the Working Family Party in Connecticut.
He chose the lines at City Hall and was able to vote at around 3 p.m.
Narcisse said he saw the gubernatorial candidates as voting for the “best of two evils” throwing his support behind Ned Lamont. But he said he voted ideology when it came to the Congressional races, noting that he felt that U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro had a strong track record for supporting issues that concern him most. He said he was grateful that he had the option.
“I wanted to make sure to cast my vote in this election,” he said.
Other students interviewed said they had similar problems with trying but failing to vote by absentee ballot elsewhere thus ending up in line Tuesday.
Arnold said it’s important to have election day voting for people who genuinely thought they were able to vote, then learned they weren’t registered. He said that while the city could do more to seed the process in the future — by training and certifying more people to handle step two — he also called on students to do a better job registering in advance so the city doesn’t have to handle such a last-minute crush.
“I think we’re doing a good thing,” Arnold said. “Voting is important. Anything we can do to help [people] vote is a good thing.”
The following is a reaction from ACLU of Connecticut legal director Dan Barrett:
“New Haven’s repeated failure to staff its polling places with enough workers to ensure people’s rights to vote is practically inviting a lawsuit. The long lines and discouraged voters we saw today were a completely avoidable situation.
“Connecticut’s Election Day registration law is also clearly intended to allow people who are in line to register to vote by 8 p.m. to cast their ballots that same day. The 8 p.m. cutoff imposed today in New Haven is artificial, does not carry the weight of the law, and is based on a non-binding advisory opinion from the Secretary of the State’s office, not the letter of the law.”
From the start Tuesday, significantly more people were voting than in the previous gubernatorial election.
A new wrinkle this year: The Republicans sent special troops to challenge the rights of some people to vote.
One measure of increased interest in this election: More people are voting by absentee ballot.
The City Clerk’s Office distributed 2,075 absentee ballot applications this year. About 70 percent have already come back, the staff reported Tuesday morning. And that’s before they counted boxes with hundreds of new returned ballots arriving by mail that day. Also, police officers will be dropping off completed ballots until 8 p.m. That means well more than 1,500 absentee ballots have already been returned; in the 2014 election a total of 1,111 New Haveners voted by absentee.
People also waited in line to vote at spots like Ward 25’s Edgewood School and Ward 28’s Hillhouse High School polling stations. Delays occurred in part because of ballots with more items to fill out than usual. But more people were also showing up.
At 10 a.m., citywide voting was up 147 percent from 2014, reported Democratic Town Chair Vincent Mauro Jr., who monitors the numbers closely all day.
Then by 1 p.m., the vote total was 17,247, up from 14,217 in 2014, a 21 percent jump, according to Mauro.
“What we don’t know is if this increase is because people are voting early because of the [rain] forecast, or if this is a new trend,” Mauro reported. “It’s a long day. We will keep at it on the doors and phones.”
Mayor Toni Harp showed up at the Registrar of Voters Office before noon to relay complaints fielded by her staff about problems at the Ward 9 polling station at Wilbur Cross High School, where the tabulator (the machine into which you feed your ballot) wasn’t working. Poll workers placed completed ballots to the side to be fed later into a working machine.
The same happened at Ward 26’s polling station, Mauro Sheridan School. When the tabulator broke, the city sent a new tabulator in. That one broke too.
At Wilbur Cross, Ward 9 Assistant Registrar Frank Delvecchio said the malfunction may have been caused by a damp ballot submitted by a voter who had been out on the rain and still had water on her hands or jacket.
Under state law, parties can sign up people with the local registrar of voters to serve as “unofficial checkers and challengers” to stand at polling places and question whether someone is a legitimate voter. This role is on top of the Republican and Democratic staffers who officially check people’s IDs and sign them in.
This year, the state Republicans sent a team of such challengers to New Haven’s polls. The first eight — Andrew O’Toole, John Decker, Aaron Goldenberg, Jim Papillo, Mark Migliaccio, Jeff Donofrio, Garrett Flynn, and Chris Oliveira — were signed up to stand at the polls during a 6-10 a.m. shift and challenge voters at the Hall of Records (Ward 7), Wilbur Cross (9 and 10), the Woodward Avenue Firehouse (17), Nathan Hale School (18), Lincoln-Bassett School (20), Edgewood School (25), Mauro Sheridan (26), Clearence Rogers (30a), and the City Hall spot for same-day registration. They were also signed up for shifts at other spots (and return shifts to some of the morning spots) through 8 p.m.
The Democrats did not sign up anyone to fill this role at New Haven voting sites, according to Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans.
Prior to the election, Peggy Reeves of the Secretary of the State’s offices emailed guidance on the subject to local election officials. She wrote in part:
“Unofficial checkers are partisan designees. They have no authority and may not interfere in the voting process. They may be removed by the moderator if disruptive. The appointment of unofficial checkers by the registrar is discretionary and any submitted names must be provided by the town chairman of the party of the registrar at least 48 hours before the opening of the polls. Unofficial checkers may not ‘wander’ throughout town and enter a polling place other than the one they have been assigned without prior consent of the Registrars of Voters. ...
“Although anyone rightfully in the polling place may challenge the right of anyone offering to vote, the registrars have the discretion to appoint one or two “challengers” for each polling place. Challenges to voters must not be indiscriminate and are made under oath. A person who challenges a voter’s eligibility to vote must know, suspect, or reasonably believe that the voter is not who they say they are, does not live where they say they live, or is disenfranchised, under penalty of false statement. The moderator then decides on the right of the challenged person to vote. If the moderator believes that the challenge is without merit, the voter is given a regular ballot and allowed to cast a vote. If the moderator decides against a challenged voter, that voter has the right to both a challenged ballot and a provisional ballot. Challengers are considered official poll workers by state statute and as such would be working for the municipality and not a party. In addition, because they are official poll workers the restriction on conducting political activity on Election Day would also apply.”
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill also issued a press release prior to the election in response to planned challengers.
“In Connecticut, we protect voting rights,” Merrill said. “Although we take great pains to ensure that only eligible voters are allowed to vote, we are also careful to avoid potential voter intimidation. Challenges to the eligibility of voters should not be made lightly —they are made under oath and only when there is reason to believe they have merit. Frivolous challenges are likely to slow down the voting process, or even cause some eligible voters to stay away.
“Here in Connecticut, we can all agree that eligible voters should have the right to vote unimpeded.”
Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesperson for her office, said it does not keep a tally of how many checkers were signed up with local registrars statewide.
Stefanowski Fans In The Cove
While a big New Haven turnout would presumably help Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, in Morris Cove Republican Bob Stefanowski was winning support on Tuesday.
Including from lifelong Democrat (until the last election) Chris Schnepf (pictured).
Schnepf said he voted “straight Republican” because of declining state support for community colleges. He heads Gateway Community College’s literature/humanities department; he has taught there for 43 years.
“We’re being hit brutally. We’re running a shoestring budget from Hartford,” he opined after he came out of the Nathan Hale School voting place.
“There’s a huge exodus of business to Massachusetts. It is a lovely state, but the Democrats haven’t done a good job. You just keep on doing the wrong thing. I’d like to see the state come back alive.”
Julio Carmona said he voted Republican because he’s upset about the “floodgate” of immigrants.
Carmona, a Texas-born man of Mexican descent, said his family came to the country legally. A skilled electronics technician, Carmona said he has not been able to find work recently and finds it challenging to feed his 16-year-old son.
“I can’t understand how do we let 10,000 people in and I can’t find work, and they take the jobs,” he said. “All the manufacturing in the city is gone. I am an Uber [driver] now. Without it, I’d be unemployed.”
Forty-seven-year-old Jason Bayer, an electrician who keeps the lights and power on for Metro-North, said he voted for Stefanowski because “I can’t stand another tax—auto, property ...
“It just hasn’t worked. [Gov.Dannel P.] Malloy has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars,” he asserted, quietly but firmly. “We are at an extremely critical moment. We’re precarious. We’re so divided. We need to try something different.”
Like Carmona, Bayer cited immigration as a reason for his Stefanowski vote. He opposes sanctuary cities, he said. “You can’t pick and choose which laws to enforce.”
Murphy Catches Westville’s Earliest Voters
Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, seeking a second term in office, started his Election Day in the city where he won his biggest vote total the first time around: New Haven.
The morning turnout was reported to be higher than usual.
As polls opened at 6 a.m., Murphy showed up to greet the earliest voters at Ward 25’s Edgewood School station, where Democrats produce some of the city’s biggest vote totals each year.
Mayor Toni Harp was there, too, casting her vote. (See that and more in the above video.)
Murphy encountered a steady stream of earlier risers, including Dominic Carew. Carew said he “wanted to definitely be out first thing. It’s a good year to do this … to state what we feel. Not just state what we feel. But make a statement.”
Gene Burger reported feeling “sleepy” but “good that we’ve already voted. Now we’re going to be volunteering.”
Murphy spoke of how “New Haven’s been a very important city to me.” He said he hopes to win six more years in office Tuesday so he can return the favor by “bringing federal money back” to the city, which he called poised for growth.
Around 200 people per hour were showing up to vote throughout the morning. Combined with the longer ballot to fill out this year, that produced lines at the privacy booths at times for people waiting to vote. The turnout was reported to be higher than that in 2014, the last gubernatorial election.
Lucy Gellman contributed reporting.