Election Fiasco Repeat Looms

Paul Bass PhotoMarkeshia Ricks PhotoThe Secretary of the State’s office rushed down to New Haven to try to prevent a repeat Election Day disaster involving last-minute registration.

An election staffer from the office huddled with the city’s Democratic and Republican registrars Thursday to try to bring them up to speed on how to conduct Election Day Registration (EDR).

The secretary of the state’s office is concerned for three reasons, according to spokesman Patrick Gallahue:

• New Haven’s registrars, unlike the majority of other registrars in the state, failed to participate in three EDR training sessions.

• The office appeared not to have enough ballots in place and staffers ready to handle the expected crush of people seeking to vote.

• This is the first presidential election in which Connecticut will have EDR, and big crowds of last-mintue voters are anticipated in college communities.

Compounding fears is the fact that New Haven failed in handling EDR in 2014, the year it took effect in Connecticut. The registrars planned for around 200 people to show up to register and vote that day. More than three times that many showed up. People spent hours waiting to sign up and vote in a line that snaked out of the cramped, overwhelmed space the registrars set up on the second floor of City Hall.

And 100 people didn’t get to vote at all, because the registrars couldn’t sign them up by 8 p.m., when the polls closed. Under state law, if you’re in line to vote by 8 p.m. you can still cast a ballot after 8 p.m.— but only if you have already registered. You can’t register after 8 p.m. and still vote in that election.

Read about that 2014 mess here.

Despite that experience, New Haven appeared to be ill-prepared for next Tuesday’s election, in the view of the secretary of state’s office, according to Gallahue: It prepared to have too few ballots on hand. It still plans to hold EDR in the same cramped quarters on City Hall’s second floor. And the registrars told the visiting state election staffer they plan to have nine people on call to work the computers and process registrants; that number is too small, based on the formula the state uses to staff EDR, Gallahue said.

Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans, who runs the registrar office, refused to discuss the Thursday meeting with the state, when asked about it in person Friday.

“How did you hear about that?” she snapped. “We’re busy. I can’t stop and have a conversation with you all day.”

She said she would order the Republican registrar, Delores Knight, to answer any questions.

Knight did. She said she was surprised, at the end of the Thursday meeting, to have the state election official question their preparedness: “We went through everything. At the end, the woman said, ‘New Haven is not ready.’”

As for staffing levels and room size, “none of that was ever mentioned to us by the lady yesterday,” Knight said.

Knight said the registrars did not participate in the training sessions, two of which were held on conference calls, “because we’re busy. We have gone to several trainings. But conference calls we have not participated in because we were busy. We were being hit with voters. Then we had the online registration through DMV [state Department of Motor Vehicles].”

Voter Suppression?

The secretary’s office raised a separate concern with the registrar’s office this week: The registrars sent where-to-vote postcards to citizens this week reading, in part, “IDENTIFICATION IS REQUIRED.”

The state does ask people to show some form of identification at the polls. Not necessarily a photo ID. It can be a ldriver’s license, say, or a credit card or utility bill.

But if you show up with no identification, you can still vote. You sign an affidavit and then receive a ballot.

The fear is that the notation on the postcards will keep some people home who mistakenly believe they won’t be able to vote.

Paul Bass Photo“I am concerned about suppressing people’s vote, “Secretary of the State Denise Merrill told the Independent Friday. “We had a long conversation with all the attorneys yesterday [about it]. It’s just muddying the waters, and we’re not happy about it.”

Democratic Registrar Evans refused to speak about this issue, either. She referred questions to Republican Registrar Knight. Knight said New Haven has used that language in the past and never heard complaints. “That’s always been there. [Then] we got a call yesterday from Peggy Reeves that identification is not required.” At that point, she said, it was too late: The cards had been sent. Knight said the state should have spread the word sooner. “There is a lack of communication,” she said.

Click here for information from the Secretary of the State’s website about election day voting and registration rules.

New Haven screwed up its where-to-vote postcards sent for this past April’s presidential primary, the first election Evans oversaw since becoming Democratic registrar. Hundreds of people received postcards from her office directing them to the wrong polling places. Click here to a read a story about that and about Merrill’s reaction.

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posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 4, 2016  4:22pm

“New Haven’s registrars, unlike the majority of other registrars in the state, failed to participate in three EDR training sessions.”

That line is the story in a nutshell.  Wow, really New Haven.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 4, 2016  6:56pm

Democratic Registrar Evans refused to speak about this issue, either. She referred questions to Republican Registrar Knight. Knight said New Haven has used that language in the past and never heard complaints. “That’s always been there. [Then] we got a call yesterday from Peggy Reid that identification is not required.” At that point, she said, it was too late: The cards had been sent. Knight said the state should have spread the word sooner. “There is a lack of communication,” she said.

The two-party system is a bad joke on the American people; when it comes to Republicans and Democrats remember they are two sides of the same coin. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil and not an answer to our problems. A vote for a Republican or a Democrat will not fix anything and is a wasted vote.


Aaron Russo

posted by: LutherWeeks on November 4, 2016  9:45pm

Incorrect to say law says Registration stops at 8:00. That is a pronouncement of the Secretary of the State.

posted by: Peter99 on November 5, 2016  4:58am

The city is at the very least consistent. In competence is prevalent in all departments in varying degrees. Where is the leadership that should be correcting this?

posted by: BenBerkowitz on November 5, 2016  12:02pm

1) Can volunteers help?
2) How does a registrar get their job and how can we take it away from them?

posted by: Bill Saunders on November 5, 2016  7:33pm

Ben,

Both the Democratic and Republican registrars are elected by US.  Imagine that.

It is a State level seat, so those offices are elected the same time we elect our Governor.

Little known fact for future PROGRESSIVE THIRD PARTY CANDIDATES—should a third party run and beat out one of the Major Party Candidates(read:Republican), all THREE Registrars would be seated…..

I think it is a sure fire method of staking out an independent Political Franchise…

.

posted by: Leslie Blatteau on November 6, 2016  11:22am

Bill and Ben:  I just got a flyer from Rosa DeLauro indicating that the Democratic incumbent Registrar of Voters, Shannel Evans, is running for re-election.  And when I called the office upon receipt of the negligent and erroneous voter information card, the person I spoke with cast blame on the Secretary of State’s office for the supposed law that clearly the New Haven Registrars have failed to understand.  UNREAL. 

Not sure how long their terms are, but here’s hoping two years. We need to elect people who will take advantage of state training in order to understand our state’s voting laws.  People’s access to the ballot should never be taken lightly.

posted by: Voting Rights Advocate on November 6, 2016  3:08pm

I am disappointed to read about the concerns regarding New Haven’s readiness for this election.

I’m the co-chair of the voter registration committee at a social service organization in New Haven. As the NHI explains, voters are not required to show ID at the polls in Connecticut. If you go to vote and don’t have ID with you, you can sign an affidavit confirming that you are who you say you are. Then, you can vote.

In our work on the voter registration committee, we find that many people (including sometimes people working at the polls) incorrectly assume that photo IDs are required to vote in Connecticut. At our agency, we encourage people to bring ID to the polls to avoid confusion. But sometimes people forget or lose their ID; they may not have a driver’s license or other photo ID in the first place. The issue disproportionately impacts poor people. It is imperative that our city officials and poll workers understand the law.

We also find that very often people are misinformed about the voting laws pertaining to parole and probation. Registered voters with a felony conviction are able to vote as long as they are off parole. If you’re on probation, you can vote. Homeless people also can vote. Voters are required to be: (1) age 18 or over on Election Day; (2) U.S. citizens; (3) off parole. You’ll vote in the city where you live; if you’re homeless in New Haven you can list 100 Elm Street (New Haven Green) as your address (last I checked, you’d vote at 200 Orange Street).

Voters: when you go to the polls on Tuesday, please keep your eyes and ears open on behalf of your fellow citizens. If you overhear a voter without ID being discouraged from voting, please speak up on the voter’s behalf. The polling place moderator should be able to assist the voter.  While other states have enacted tighter voter ID laws aimed at restricting voting rights, we in Connecticut should be proud to have laws that demonstrate respect for, and trust in, the voters.

posted by: J R on November 6, 2016  8:59pm

This is extremely disappointing.

I hope the news coverage prompts some changes both now and in the future.  It may be too late to fix this year’s postcards, but it’s not too late to fix the more important issue: how many staff members and how many ballots are will be to handle the crush of same-day registration votes Tuesday.

Evans & Knight: you have all day tomorrow (Monday) to do your jobs and get this done.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on November 7, 2016  8:10am

That’s an interesting strategy Bill. I was not referring to Merril. She appears to be doing her job. I was referring to the local officials who seem unprepared.

Is there a way to volunteer?

posted by: BenBerkowitz on November 7, 2016  8:13am

@Leslie,
Thanks! That was my question. We need to fix this. Would you consider running for this position? It’s not on the ballot tomorrow is it?

[Ed: It is on the ballot tomorrow. But you don’t really get to choose. But law, the Democrat and the Republican automatically win.]

posted by: Dwightstreeter on November 7, 2016  9:34am

The election system is rigged, but not in the way some people think.
Here’s a link to an article on the Daily Beast discussing it.

https://theintercept.com/2016/11/06/nine-ways-the-u-s-voting-system-is-rigged-but-not-against-donald-trump/

posted by: Carl Goldfield on November 7, 2016  9:47am

There is a simple and necessary response-don’t vote for Registrar.  It’s not a solution but at least it doesn’t reward naked incompetence.

posted by: Noteworthy on November 7, 2016  11:18am

Election Blues Notes:

1. We all face deadlines: Filing your taxes; paying your property taxes; paying your bills; paying your mortgage; boarding an airline; catching a train, going to school, showing up for work.

2. Failure to meet deadlines carries penalties - higher interest, foreclosure, additional fees on your bills, missed opportunities, messed up schedules or punishment for showing up late for work or school.

3. The idea that people are too damn lazy to register on time and vote on schedule and therefore have to be accommodated is absurd. It promotes a careless disregard for an important civic participation. There is zero reason to have last minute registration. We should not have it. If people cannot meet the deadline, they shouldn’t be able to vote.

4. This constant catering to the lazy, the uninformed and disrespectful should end. If you aren’t competent enough to register and vote on time, you are probably barely competent enough to cast an informed vote.

5. The same holds true for identification for voting - you can’t go in a federal office without ID. Or board a plane. Sometimes, you can’t use your credit card without ID - if you look young like me, you can’t drink or buy booze without ID. You can’t buy a car, get financing for a home, rent an apartment or get welfare without identification.

6. Why should you be allowed to vote without ID? It is not voter suppression - that is a myth of the lefties in order to justify dumbing down basic, minimum standards to vote.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on November 7, 2016  2:06pm

1) I just voted for a woman for President!
2) I did so today because this article scared me into believing I might not have time before my flight in the AM tomorrow given how unprepared the Registrar appeared to be in the article. Thanks Paul! Go to 200 Orange Street if you want to do this today.
3) You can vote for an Independent for the Registrar today or tomorrow. The vote for the Republican is a false choice as Paul points out as both a Republican and Democrat will get in. The independent vote for Registrar is the only way to get a voice in who reps us in the Registrar’s office at it would add a third Registrar.
4) I wrote in for Leslie Blatteau for Registrar. Paul B was there when I did it and he questioned whether a write in could work day of. Paul, I was not clear on Michael’s response to that. Would appreciate the clarification and a more in depth civic education of this process in general.

[Paul: Write-ins get tabulated as “write-ins” unless the candidate is registered as a write-in candidate. In this case, the person is not registered.]

posted by: Razzie on November 7, 2016  4:54pm

Generally speaking, Registrar of Voters is elected biennially on the State Office election cycle.
https://www.cga.ct.gov/current/PUB/chap_146.htm#sec_9-190a

In the instance of Ms. Evans and Ms. Knight, both were first APPOINTED to the positions due to the midterm retirements of their predecessors (Sharon Ferrucci was the long-time Democratic Registrar who resigned shortly before her term expired). Upon vacancy in the office, Ms. Evans was selected to fill the vacancy and serve out the remainder of her term. Upon elevation to the position of Registrar, Ms. Evans inherited all of the advantages of a New Haven incumbency—a free ride (unopposed)  through the endorsement process and the subsequent general election. Hence, it is not surprising that no one remembers voting her in.

Much like the City Town Clerk office, a strong argument can be made for eliminating it from being an elected position and replacing it with an office holder who is selected/hired based upon qualifications and merit. Neither the Registrar’s Office nor City Town Clerk office have many employees (fewer than 10 combined). So why bother “electing” the persons to run them? This is especially true when it seems that neither Registrar appears to be interested enough in their job to research the voting laws that they are entrusted with applying.

posted by: Patricia Kane on November 9, 2016  11:14am

@Noteworthy: We could automatically enroll everyone at age 18 as a voter. Why is it necessary to jump thru any hoops in this electronic age?
We should also require notification when anyone is dropped from the voting rolls.
There is a bigger problem with voter suppression than with voter fraud and it is aimed at people of color.
check out Greg Palast’s latest expose: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/the-gops-stealth-war-against-voters-w435890