The election is less than a week away, but Hurricane Sandy isn’t going to stop Connecticut from opening up its more than 700 polling places.
“That is my first message — the election will go on,“ Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said at a Capitol press conference.
At the moment an estimated 100 polling places in Connecticut Light & Power towns have no power and the utility has been working to get them back on, Merrill said. She hasn’t been able to get in touch with anyone at United Illuminating to find out how many locations in its 17 towns along the shore are without power, and Bridgeport remains a concern.
Bridgeport was hit hard by the storm and most of the downtown was without power for a period because the substation had to be de-energized. But Merrill’s concerns about Bridgeport aren’t only related to its power situation.
In 2010, Bridgeport failed to order enough ballots, and then-Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz had to get a court order to keep the polls open past 8 p.m. so that everyone in line could vote. But that was just the beginning of its problems. Bungled until the very end, the vote tally wasn’t made final until days after the polls closed leaving the tightest gubernatorial race in recent memory undecided for days.
Anthony Marone, vice president at United Illuminating, said utility received the list of polling places and are working to see if they have power by pinging the meters. The process was still ongoing Wednesday afternoon so it’s too soon to know how many have power.
Merrill said she’s also worried about towns like Norwalk where only 2 of their 12 polling places are operational. She said towns like Sherman have no power and no phone. One of East Haven’s two polling places has power, another has limited power. Greenwich officials say there is no power to some of their polling places, but they are working on it and town hall is up and running.
“Fortunately for us most of our polling places are in fire stations, schools, town halls,” Merrill said. “So most of them will probably be up and running by election day.”
There are provisions that allow local election officials to move the polling places if necessary, but that’s always a last resort since it may inconvenience voters.
In 2011, two or three towns moved or consolidated polling places because of that storm without incident, Merrill said.
She said the towns impacted are the ones with multiple polling places. Smaller towns with only one or two polling places haven’t been impacted as greatly.
“It’s hard to imagine, but by Tuesday this could be a memory in many places,” Merrill said.
But that might also be because local registrars had practice last year conducting an election when the lights were still out.
Last year, one day before the municipal election, 60,000 households and businesses were still without power. Local election officials were devising contingency plans to make sure polling locations were open.
“They had been thinking about what do you do when there is no power at your polling place,” Merrill said.
She said voter turnout during last year’s municipal election wasn’t any different than it was during previous municipal election years.
“We had the same dismally low turnout,” Merrill said.
The voter registration deadline was supposed to end today but was extended until Thursday. Merrill said that even if people can’t get registered before Thursday, they can still fill out a presidential ballot.
In 2008, about 35,000 presidential ballots were cast in Connecticut.