Mysterious Unaffiliated Voters Emerge As A Prize

Shenell Charles didn’t register as either a Republican or a Democrat because she shares views on both sides. Gerard Scott became an unaffiliated voter by accident. Crissa Stokes said she doesn’t know what distinguishes Democrats from Republicans, so she split the difference. Brother Born said he’s unaffiliated so that he can “hear all the lies at once.”

Those voters, and 18,000 others like them, might make the difference in November’s mayoral election.

Most New Haven voters—50,243 people as of Sept. 11—are Democrats. But the second largest bloc of voters comprises people who by definition refuse to form a bloc. They’re the 18,315 unaffiliated voters, people who register to vote but don’t sign up as a Democrat or a Republican or a Green or as a member of any other political party.

Figuring out what, if anything, unites or defines them is a tricky exercise, one in which the two campaigns for mayor are deeply engaged.

Now that the Democratic primary election is over, those 18,315 unaffiliated voters will have an opportunity to cast ballots in the general election. Mayoral candidate Justin Elicker is counting on them helping him turn his second-place Democratic primary finish into a first-place victory in November.

Elicker is running in the general as an independent candidate. He’s competing for the open mayoral seat with Democrat Toni Harp, who captured 7,327 votes in the primary, nearly 50 percent of votes cast.

Elicker received 3,417 votes in the primary, less than half of Harp’s count. He’s hoping to make up the difference in part by picking up supporters of the two mayoral candidates who dropped out after the primary. Those candidates—Kermit Carolina and Henry Fernandez—together captured 3,979 votes.

Elicker is also banking on unaffiliated voters flocking to his candidacy. He said he’s expecting 4,000 unaffiliated New Haveners to vote in the general election.

“Why are they unaffiliated? Because they are tired of politics as usual,” Elicker proclaimed in a primary election-night speech to his supporters. “Those people are ours!” 

Are they his? Or are they more likely to vote for Harp? Or are they even likely to vote at all?

We won’t have definitive answers to those questions until the evening of Nov. 5. Here’s what we do know.

Where They Are

Unaffiliated voters are distributed fairly evenly through much of the city. (See map at top of the story.) But several wards have a disproportionate number of them.

Downtown & Yale: Most notable is Ward 1, which had a whopping 1,176 unaffiliated voters as of Sept. 11, according to the office of the registrar of voters. Since the ward comprises Yale University almost exclusively, these voters are mostly undergrads living in dorms.

Students may not have formed a political ideology yet, Elicker speculated when asked about the spike of unaffiliated voters in Ward 1.

“They’re really young,” he said. “They may just not be passionate about a political party yet.”

FacebookThat’s the case for Emma Speer (pictured), a newly arrived freshman from Bridgeport. “I’m 18 and never voted before and don’t know enough about politics to identify myself with a party.”

Speer said she registered to vote on dorm move-in day when people were asking students to sign up.

Downtown’s Ward 7, which borders Ward 1, also has a high number of unaffiliated voters. Doug Hausladen, the ward’s alderman said that may also be because many of them are students.

Hausladen said many of his constituents are “grad school folks” who may not realize New Haven has closed primaries where only party members are allowed to vote. “They don’t think to register in a party.” (Connecticut’s Republican Party used to let unaffiliateds vote in its primaries.)

Another complicating factor in Wards 1 and Ward 7: some students live in New Haven for a short time. There may be a large number of people who are registered to vote there, but have finished their degrees and no longer live in New Haven.

West Rock: Ward 30, West Rock, has the second largest pool of unaffiliated voters in the city after Ward 1, probably for the same reason: students. Most of Southern Connecticut State University’s dorms are in Ward 30, said Darnell Goldson, the ward’s former alderman.

“Those kids usually register unaffiliated,” he said. “You know, young, independent, don’t want to be committed to one thing or another.”

Goldson listed a couple of other reasons Ward 30 has a lot of unaffiliated voters. It has a Job Corps site and Crossroads, a home for people coming out of drug programs or jail. Both of those institutions regularly register their participants. Goldson said people there are likely to register as unaffiliated since they usually don’t follow politics closely.

East & Northeast: The East Shore’s Ward 18 has the fifth most unaffiliated voters of any ward. Probably not coincidentally, Ward 18 also has by far the highest number of Republicans of any ward, with 278 members of the GOP.

Wards 11 and 12, in the northeast corner of the city, also has many unaffiliated voters. Ward 11 is populated largely by the senior citizens at Bella Vista, which goes against the trend in Ward 1, where unaffiliated voters seem to be young.

How Young They Are

Citywide, unaffiliated voters are young. At least, they tend to be younger than Democrats and Republicans. The average unaffiliated age is 40, a few years below the Democratic and GOP averages of 46 and 48 respectively.

A closer look at the numbers shows that more than half of unaffiliated voters in New Haven are under the age of 40. And a third are under 30.

That’s in contrast to the Democratic Party. Less than a quarter of New Haven Democrats are under 30 and less than half are under 40.

Why They Are

Unaffiliated voters are unaffiliated for several reasons. They may, like Speers the Yale freshman, have not yet formed a political ideology. Or they may feel that the established parties don’t represent their views. Or they may be unaffiliated by mistake.

Oops!: Gerard Scott, a 22-year-old who lives in Upper Westville’s Ward 26 thought he had registered as a Democrat, but he’s listed as an unaffiliated voter. He said tried to vote in the Democratic primary and was turned away.

That was also the case for Latasha Ward, who lives in the Annex in Ward 17 and it listed as an unaffiliated voter. “I’m a Democrat,” she said. “When I went to vote in the primary, I couldn’t vote.”

Some percentage of unaffiliated voters are so listed in error, whether by checking the wrong box or through some error in the registrar’s office. Since New Haven is overwhelmingly a Democratic city, chances are these unaffiliateds-in-name-only are de facto Democrats.

Jason Bartlett, Harp’s campaign manager, said he thinks unaffiliated voters are a mix of people who choose to be outside of the party system and people who “accidentally become unaffiliated and think of themselves as Democrats.”

“Probably 50-50, that would be my guess,” he said.

“I think in New Haven, unaffiliated voters are really Democrats in terms of their ideology,” Bartlett said. He pointed to Democrat Gov. Dannel Malloy’s election in 2010. “New Haven delivered for the governor. Most people here think like Democrats. Ideologically people are pretty blue.”

If unaffiliated voters really think of themselves as Democrats, they might vote the party line and get behind Harp in November.

But if they don’t pay attention to party when they’re filling out the voter registration form, why would they pay attention when filling out their ballot?

In Between: Elicker agreed with Bartlett that some portion of unaffiliated voters are unaffiliated by mistake, forgetting to check a box. But after calling 100 unaffiliated voters earlier this week, he said he found that most of them registered that way intentionally.

“They are generally people that don’t like institutional politics,” he said. They’re “somewhat frustrated with that system.”

Melissa Bailey Photo“There’s not way to make sense out of the confusion,” said Yancey Horton, known as Brother Born. The two parties are so mixed up and have changed their stances so much throughout history, that it’s better not to identify with either, he said.

Modern Democrats represent equality to African-Americans, but the Democrats were historically allied with the Ku Klux Klan, and it was Republican President Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves, Brother Born said.

“It’s just very hard to choose either one of those sides,” he said. “That’s why I stay independent, so both sides have to pander to me.”

“I make up my decisions based on what I feel is right,” said Shennel Charles, a 30-year-old unaffiliated voter in Westville. “I share views from both parties. It depends on the time and the moment.”

Others stay unaffiliated for religious reasons. “I’m Roman Catholic and hold views that are found in both parties,” said an unaffiliated voter on Willow Street in East Rock. She said she’s against abortion, and against the death penalty. She finds herself “caught between” the Democrats and the Republicans.

“There are some principles that I believe in that are more Republican and others that are more Democratic,” said John Baxter, a Yale freshman who recently registered as unaffiliated. He said he’s not quite sure what he wants in a mayor. “But I will know what I don’t like whenever I see it.”

Don’t Know/Don’t Care: It’s not just students who are ideologically inchoate. Crissa Stokes, 23-year-old full-time mom in Newhallville, said she registered as unaffiliated because “I didn’t want to make a choice” between Democrats and Republicans. “What are the differences? What makes them different?

Stokes said she doesn’t follow the news closely.

“I don’t know about them, so that’s why I didn’t choose,” 21-year-old unaffiliated voter Angelica Perez said of the major political parties. “I didn’t know which one to pick.” She said she hasn’t been following the mayoral campaign and doesn’t know when the election is.

“I’m just not into it,” said Fredrick Chisolm, a 23-year-old who lives on Shelton Avenue. He said he doesn’t follow politics and only registered to get people to stop asking him to. “It’s something I don’t really care about, to be honest.”

Does It Matter?

Does party affiliation even matter that much in local elections? Elicker said he thinks not.

Party lines are clear on national issues: abortion, gun rights, social services. On the municipal level, the issues are more universal, Elicker said. He mentions schools, safety, jobs.

“The overwhelming majority of people we’ve spoken with in the campaign are interested in the candidate and what the candidates can do for the city, and not as much in the party,” Elicker said.

But Bartlett said party affiliation might still be a predictor on the local level, a predictor of local engagement. “Unaffiliated voters, I’m going to guess, are more interested in national politics,” he said.

Speer the college freshman from Bridgeport, said that’s true for her. She said doesn’t know much about the mayor’s race, and isn’t planning to vote in November.

Chisolm, the guy who registered so people would stop bugging him, also said he’s not planning to vote.

Which brings us to perhaps the most important question ...

How Many Will Vote?

Paul Bass PhotoElicker (pictured schmoozing with Sgts. Herb Johnson and Sam Brown before Thursday morning’s weekly CompStat meeting at police headquarters) said his campaign is expecting 4,000 unaffiliated voters to go to the polls in November. If he wins the majority of those, it might be enough to put him over the top.

But Bartlett, Harp’s campaign manager, offered a lower turnout estimate. “We’re only expecting two to four thousand.”

“We think Democrats are still going to dominate,” he said. Unaffiliated voters are “not the deciding factor.”

In the mayoral general election two years ago, only about 2,000 of a total of 15,000 votes were cast by unaffiliated voters, Bartlett said. Mayor John DeStefano won reelection.

“Unaffiliated voters have supported DeStefano” because they like his “leadership and stability,” Bartlett said. “Toni Harp is the best candidate to provide that same leadership.”

What Do They Want?

In the end, both campaigns said unaffiliated voters in New Haven want the same things Democrats want.

“It’s good schools, safe streets, getting your sidewalk fixed,” Elicker said.

“My guess is they’re going to care about the same issues that we found people care about in the Democratic party,” Bartlett said.

Campaigning in the general election is therefore just like campaigning in the primary.

“Our message is one that will still appeal to unaffiliated and Republican voters,” Bartlett said.

It may ultimately be less about party affiliation and more about political engagement. “We try to determine who those prime voters are, who’s going to vote,” Bartlett said.

“We’re doing the same thing we did with the Democrats: knocking on doors, making phone calls all day long,” Elicker said.


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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 3, 2013  5:21pm

Unaffiliated Voters or Not.It still comes to This.

posted by: HewNaven on October 3, 2013  6:20pm

A candidate should run on one’s resume and vision, just like any other job. We don’t need to know what gang you’re affiliated with. That said, we all have to adapt to whatever conditions we’re given. That means, living in New Haven, I’m registered as a Democrat during primary season so that I have a say in New Haven’s one-sided process. I’m ideologically unaffiliated, and so I should become an unaffiliated voter after the election. Ideally, if many Democrats were to do that, there would be a critical mass of unaffiliated voters reached in New Haven, and the local Democratic party will fall. At that point the DTC would lose their stranglehold on the political process and New Haven could finally have a fair (i.e. democratic) political process for the first time in history. Or, we could just pretend like we’re all still in High School and remain cliquish in our respective parties.

posted by: Amityboy on October 3, 2013  7:36pm

Please stop using the word schmoozing so much.

posted by: sunshine44 on October 3, 2013  9:23pm

Why is it that in every interview, Bartlett, Harp’s “campaign manager”, comments, rather than Harp?  When, at the same time, Elicker takes the time to engage with the Independent and interview in person.  This says a great deal about how each candidate would be as mayor…Elicker will be a mayor who will be available to and cares about the residents of New Haven, and Harp, someone who would only be available to those who have most likely donated to her campaign, while leaving everything else to her hired help to deal with.

I hope that democrats, republicans, and independents can see through her politics and vote for the real person who will actually represent them… Elicker will be the only mayor who will be there for every citizen, working his heart out for this city.

posted by: robn on October 3, 2013  10:25pm

Bartletts simplistic guess about “blue” voters is incredibly naive and telling. He fails to see what most statisticians have recognized for at least a decade. Look at the numbers and our country and localities are actually pretty purple. That’s why margins of victory are usually so small and our congress and legislatures have been deadlocked. Even CT for 15 years, has given the lions share of the Leg to Dems and the Guvs mansion to the Repubs (with the exception of Malloy who barely won (1/2 % point) even though he ran against a very weak Repub opponent and even though the statewide union apparatus was wheeling the comatose to the polls on Election Day.)

posted by: flash_demo on October 3, 2013  11:21pm

And another thing that could happen is that a person could wise up between the primary and the general and vote for the candidate and not the party.

posted by: Citizen X on October 4, 2013  7:35am

I find it interesting that local outlets have been so hands off on finding out more about Justin Elicker’s past, given that he has been in New Haven for just six years.

For example, Elicker had been commissioned by Bush/Cheney after 9/11 to work for the State Department. And remember, Bush/Cheney worked hard to employ folks based almost entirely on ideology.

Elicker was there in 2003 when Colin Powell rolled over and lied to the U.N. Security Council, thus laying groundwork for the invasion of Iraq, which would cost the U.S. in both lives and wealth. Elicker was serving as a Foreign Service Officer with the mission to “advance the interests of the U.S. abroad” and “formulate and implement the foreign policy of the U.S.”

A principled man wouldn’t have stayed on to promote a U.S. policy that basically served to provide wealth for Halliburton and the military industrial complex, right?

That didn’t bother Justin.

According to his bio on his own website, he went on to work for the State Department for the maximum — five years — before returning to New Haven in 2007.

It is curious that he has no record of ever contributing to a Democratic candidate, according to FEC filings. Not once. And yet he shows up in New Haven, after a long stint in a ultra-Republican administration, calling himself a progressive?

And when he loses a Democratic primary, badly, he turns tail on the Party and sets out, with his nasty supporters, to demonize an African-American female who is a long-standing Democrat.

As one commenter recently said, Elicker “has as the centerpiece of his platform a Tea Party tax cut (and) municipal service reduction agenda.”

Hello, New Haven Independent, where are you? It’s time to look past the position papers and proclamations of this candidate and understand his behavior. After all, past behavior predicts future behavior.

For starters, is he a Republican, a Democrat or an independent?

posted by: HhE on October 4, 2013  8:32am

Well said, HewNaven, Amityboy, sunshine44, and robn.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 4, 2013  8:57am

I will say it over and over.If you have Proportional Representation you would not have this problem.


posted by: Amityboy on October 4, 2013  8:58am

Citizen X:
1. People routinely serve as FSOs for decades—five years is more of a minimum than a max. If you ask Justin why he left, he will tell you it was because he was sick of defending Bush-era policies he didn’t agree with. Check your facts.

2. FSOs are NOT hired based on ideology. You’re very confused about how the State Department works.

3. Justin has never claimed he will cut taxes and services. Read his platform.

posted by: robn on October 4, 2013  9:02am


So the current thinking amongst the Harpies is that…

...Harp will carpet New Haven with goodies that we can’t pay for and that defy the laws of physics like her cockamamie 1hr NH-NY train idea…


Elicker is Dr Evil, once hired by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to do their evil bidding from an obscure civil servant desk job somewhere overseas.

posted by: LoveNH on October 4, 2013  9:28am

Once again, NHI demonstrates its tremendous value to this community.
This piece teaches us about ourselves with a well-researched empirical approach and beautiful graphics.  Well-done NHI! May I suggest that those of us in a position to contribute to a campaign also take time to add NHI to our donations this year? The only way this kind of journalism will continue to exist in New Haven is if we commentariat put our money where our collective mouths (and eyes) are.

posted by: citoyen on October 4, 2013  9:59am

The cockamamie notion that Justin Elicker is some kind of right-wing Republican is as ridiculous as the notion DeStefano tried to put forward two years ago, claiming that Jeffrey Kerekes was a member of the Tea Party.  Anyone who is or was paying the slightest bit of attention knows that both are utter nonsense.

When Razzie started with this right-winger line, I figured it was coming from someone who had simply gone off the deep end.  Now Citizen X puts it forward, which suggests perhaps that the Harp campaign thinks it will have legs.

What surprises me is their inability to see how it makes them look desperate, just as two years ago DeStefano’s claim suggested he actually might be worried about his own campaign.  Given the size of Harp’s primary win, why are they feeling so worried at the moment?

Beware, New Haven!  Justin Elicker is Dick Cheney reincarnated!

posted by: FrontStreet on October 4, 2013  6:29pm

In this case, I’m thankful that, beyond the commentariat, only a few dozen people in New Haven read this banter regularly.  The whole Elicker-foreign service-Bush/Cheney line is bizarre and, to put it bluntly, stupid.  But it’s a free country, you can say or write what you want.  The only thing you lose is credibility.

posted by: Eddie on October 7, 2013  7:09pm

I’m not inclined to indict Justin as an extreme right-winger or neoconservative zealot for his work at the State Department under Bush/Cheney.  Still the more I hear his defenders explain this issue, the more problematic it becomes.

For example, if Justin deeply disagreed with the foreign policy of Bush/Cheney, then why did he take a job with the State Department during this presidency?  Also it would be helpful to know exactly the policies that he was responsible for implementing during his time there.  His website is very vague on this point.  We have an extremely long track record of the policies that Harp has advocated, which are for the most part very progressive policies that support public health, access to food, safety through community policing, prison reentry, etc…  It would be great to see a longer history of the policies that Justin has advocated.  Moreover, if Amityboy is right and Justin disagreed with these policies then why did he spend a full 5 years advocating for them?  Spending 5 years “defending Bush-era policies he didn’t agree with” strikes me as quite cynical.  After all, 5 years is more time than he has served as an alder, no?  If he didn’t agree with the policies that the State Department advanced, then are we to conclude that he has spent more time advocating for policies he doesn’t agree with than those that he does agree with?  Given the level of scrutiny that Harp has faced over issues as petty as her neighborhood of residence, it seems fair that Justin is asked about what presumably accounts for the bulk of his public policy experience.