Staff at the Registrar of Voters office at Hartford City Hall attribute long Election Day lines to uninformed voters.
Urania Petit, the Working Families Party Registrar of Voters, said the biggest issue was the “lack of education about the political process.”
But Av Harris, a spokesman for the Secretary of the State’s office, said this week that Petit herself contributed to some of the confusion by calling for provisional ballots to be handed out to long lines of voters, when it was presidential ballots voters needed. It also didn’t help that Hartford’s Democratic and Republican registrars did little to help Petit resolve the chaos, he said.
Last Tuesday, lines of voters zig-zagged through city hall’s corridors, around corners and up stairs. Some voters seeking to cast a presidential ballot waiting past 9 p.m. By law, unregistered or inactive voters are able to cast a vote for a presidential candidate, but were unable to vote for the rest of the candidates.
People at the end of the line were told by police that they still had an estimated three hour wait before they could cast their vote, according to the Hartford Courant.
Some staff described the scene as chaotic. Election Official Supervisor Nelson Davila said it was “hectic.” Other staff steadily answered the buzzing phone lines. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra even sent in his staff to help with the seemingly endless stream of voters, Petit said.
“We came together for a purpose. We can’t say we didn’t deliver,” Petit said of staff members who stayed in the office as late as 5 a.m. tallying ballots.
Temporary office worker Sharon Courts, who worked a 17-and-a-half-hour shift from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. told CTNewsJunkie that the phones were ringing while staff were already on the line.
There were “thousands of calls,” Petit added.
Courts said she left at 10:30 p.m. because she was exhausted. Dorothy Shirley, a ministry director, said half of the staff didn’t even take a break .
“Aren’t they entitled to go to the bathroom?” Shirley said.
Shirley said she also was “frustrated” by the length of the line. Of the 800 to 1,000 of the people waiting, only about 20 already were registered, she said. Most people didn’t know where their polling place was, Shirley added.
In an effort to see that people were able to exercise their right to vote, Shirley provided voters who showed up at city hall with rides to their designated polling places.
She said voters are too concerned with voting for president and need to devote some of their attention to what’s happening at the local level. Simply put, she said voters “need to do a better job.”
“People are not seeing voting as something they need to be concerned about year round,” Shirley said. “Be concerned about your council person and your mayor. The people that weren’t registered need to take ownership.”
To tackle the lack of voter registration, Petit added a registration component to Tuesday’s voting process.
Juan Hernandez, a temporary worker, had proof of the staff’s efforts. He sat in front of a thick pile of completed new voter registration forms that he counted to be about 800. He said there still were more to be counted.
Communications Director Maribel La Luz of the mayor’s office commended Petit for adding the registration component.
Luz said the 1,500 people who waited in line are now registered to vote at their local polling places for the next election.
Although Shirley was disappointed by the packed city hall and “unprecedented” amount of unregistered voters, she was happy that everyone got to vote.
People waited in line for hours before they could do so, but there were no complaints. Voters knew they had a purpose and they wanted their voice to be heard. Even after the television networks announced that President Obama had won the race, voters remained, Petit said.
“We are ready, we are able, it’s our time and we are ready to make use of it,” Petit said of voters’ mentality.
Courts said she heard voters expressing that the wait was worth it.
And the “I Voted Today” stickers were a plus.
People wanted to flaunt their stickers to show that they exercised their right, Petit said. She even told CTNewsJunkie that when the office ran out of stickers, one man waited for staff to find more.
“Voters wanted to wear the stickers for their message,” she added.
“The city pulled together,” Petit said.