(UPATED 3 p.m.) A bizarre sequence of events began early Tuesday when the polls opened in Hartford without voter lists available to workers at some of the city’s polling 24 locations. In some cases people were reportedly turned away while others signed affidavits to verify their identities in order to vote without being checked off the voter list.
People were unable to vote in some locations for as much as an hour and a half.
As a result of the confusion, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s campaign filed an Election Day lawsuit to ask a judge to extend voting for one hour this evening in Hartford to accommodate those who may have been turned away from the polls this morning.
And the news apparently traveled fast. President Barack Obama, who visited this state on Sunday to stump for Malloy, was apparently made aware of the problems at the polls in Hartford and called in to WNPR’s Colin McEnroe Show to urge people to get back out to vote if they were turned away this morning.
Obama encouraged listeners not to be deterred by the inconvenience early Tuesday.
“Don’t be discouraged, Hartford, if you had some problems this morning,” Obama said. “Please go vote. Do not give away your power. Do not buy into the notion that it doesn’t make a difference. It really does.”
State Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said that he was told by Garey E. Coleman, Hartford’s Democratic Deputy registrar of voters, that the equipment the registrars’ office uses to print its voter lists failed Monday night and there was no backup available.
It’s not yet clear how long it takes to print the list of about 60,000 registered voters for all of the city’s precincts with a working printer, or if the printer had been tested in advance of the Monday deadline. But once the lists were printed, they had to be transported from City Hall to all the polling places, and that’s apparently what was happening early today while people were waiting to vote. Ritter said he did not believe the problem was citywide, but likely impacted five to 10 of the city’s 24 polling places.
The governor was among those who were forced to wait.
“Apparently, some of the polling places didn’t have voter lists,” Malloy said Tuesday morning after a rally in Manchester. “We’re trying to wrap our arms around that. Some of the districts may have been without those for the first hour and a half.”
Ritter took a harder line and said people’s constitutional rights were violated.
“Imagine going to a polling place in America and not being able to vote,” Ritter said. “This can’t be rectified for a lot of people.”
Malloy said he was told that they were still printing the voting lists for the precincts at 5:15 a.m.
He said he waited about 20 minutes to vote at the Hartford Seminary.
Malloy said some polling places allowed voters to vote by signing an affidavit affirming their identity, but others may have mistakenly turned away voters.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill was among those who voted after signing an affidavit, according to Av Harris, a spokesman for the Secretary of the State’s office. Merrill voted at the Hartford Seminary at 6:15 a.m.
At 9:30 a.m. Harris said it was unknown how many voters may have been disenfranchised and turned away at what is typically a very “high traffic” time of day at the polls.
Not everyone may have known they were able to sign an affidavit in order to vote.
“We believe it’s a citywide problem, but we don’t know,” Harris said.
He said he was at a loss to explain why the city’s voting check-off lists weren’t prepared in advance.
“We can’t plan for a lack of preparation or incompetence,” Harris said. The Secretary of the State’s office has little constitutional authority over locally elected Registrars of Voters.
The three Registrars of Voters in Hartford were unable to be reached for comment as of 2:45 p.m. Tuesday but were named in the Malloy campaign’s lawsuit so they were expected in court.
According to Malloy campaign attorney William Bloss, who spoke to reporters about 1 p.m. while waiting for a judge to hear his complaint, municipal election moderators are supposed to have the voter checklist by 8 p.m. the day before the election.
Bloss said there are some laws that are ambiguous, but “this is not one of them.”
Malloy made a point of saying that the lists were all in place and the polls are open in Hartford, and the campaign planned a news conference at 4 p.m. in Hartford where Malloy was to be joined by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra to encourage Hartford residents to go out to vote despite early morning problems.
“The bottom line is everything is fine now,” Malloy said early today.
A spokesman for the Republican Party said it was aware of the problem, but had not seen the complaint filed in court when this story was filed early today.
“We understand that any issues at Hartford polling locations were resolved by 7 a.m. this morning,” Zak Sanders, a spokesman for the Republican Party said. “There’s still plenty of time left today to get to the polls and we encourage anyone who hasn’t already done so to get out and vote before 8 p.m. “
In 2010, the city of Bridgeport faced an entirely different problem. The city had printed only 21,000 ballots for about 69,000 registered voters. By 5 p.m. nearly all of the precincts were running out and they resorted to using photocopied ballots, which had to be hand counted. Further, a judge allowed the city to extend its voting hours until 10 p.m.
Two days later, about 9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010, another bag of 335 ballots was discovered and counted, further eroding confidence in the city’s results.
As a result of the confusion and the necessity to hand count the results, the city was unable to certify its results until the following Monday.
Check back later as this story is updated.