(Updated 3:00 p.m.)
NEW HAVEN, CT — A steady but not overwhelming crowd of New Haven voters showed up at City Hall bright and early Tuesday morning to take advantage of Connecticut’s first-ever Election Day Registration (EDR) in a presidential election.
Longer lines at some of New Haven’s other polling locations started to form mid-morning and ballots at a Hartford polling place had the wrong state representative candidates listed.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office has expressed concern that some cities and towns, including New Haven, were not prepared for the number of voters looking to register on Election Day.
“The Secretary of the State’s office knows that New Haven will have high demand for Election Day Registration,” Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for Merrill, said. “Secretary Merrill has directed staff to work directly with the New Haven registrar’s office to help them be as ready as possible for Election Day. The office expects them to be prepared.”
Because of Merrill’s concern, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, while stressing that the registrar’s office is a function of state rather than municipal government, put city workers from her own staff and from Corporation Counsel staff on Tuesday to help with EDR responsibilities.
“Mayor Harp has done this (added staff) ahead of time to try and help — absent any authority to actually administer the election process,” said mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
Later in the morning, Merrill’s office offered advice to New Haven on how to structure the lines at some polling locations where voters were waiting for more than 30 minutes.
Gallahue said, “there were issues with lines. The secretary of the state’s office has provided advice on how to structure the line in order to expedite the process and to add more staff. Reports are that the lines at some polling places in New Haven are longer than elsewhere in the state.”
At Rawson Elementary School in Hartford, the ballots listed the wrong state representative candidates. The ballot had Rep. Brandon McGee, instead of Rep. Doug McCrory. McGee’s district is further north and includes part of Windsor. The error was discovered fairly quickly because the tabulator was rejecting the ballots, according to Gallahue.
Gallahue said a batch of ballots from another polling location got into the Rawson batch and were given out to maybe a “handful” of voters.
The problem, while “regrettable,” was corrected fairly quickly, Gallahue said. Those ballots will be put aside in an auxiliary bin and will only be counted if they impact the results.
Across town at the Hartford Seminary, where Merrill and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vote, the line was brisk an hour after the polls opened.
“The electorate is uneasy, but they seem determined to vote,” Merrill said Tuesday after casting her ballot at the Hartford Seminary.
She said there seemed to be a sentiment over the summer months that turnout might be depressed because people were frustrated with the rhetoric and the presidential candidates.
That didn’t seem to be the case Tuesday. Voters in several communities were waiting in lines due to large turnout.
When EDR registration began promptly at 6 a.m., there was a line outside the New Haven Registrars’ office but it was moving quickly and people were in good spirits as they waited a few minutes to register — and cast their ballots.
The line to vote in this year’s hotly contested presidential election actually began to form before the City Hall doors in New Haven opened for EDR voting — at 6 a.m.
According to news reports, there have been long lines every where in the country.
“The long lines at precincts today—even after 40 million Americans voted early—testify to Americans’ continuing determination to make the system work for everyone,” Common Cause said in a statement. “Voters want to choose representatives based on the strength of their ideas and character, and move away from the polarization that comes from these partisan power games.”
At about 5:45 a.m., 15 to 20 people were standing in front of City Hall, in the dark, trading good-natured banter about who they were going to vote for once they got inside to register.
“(Hillary) Clinton all the way,’’ said John Mitchell, calling Clinton “my girlfriend.” When asked about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Mitchell said simply: “He’s too arrogant.”
That didn’t sit well with the person ahead of him in line, Tammy Harnett, who recently moved from North Carolina, which is why she was registering to vote on Election Day in Connecticut.
Harnett said she was voting for Trump because she thought the GOP standard bearer’s tougher position on immigration laws was right.
“I want to build that wall, too,” said Harnett, referring to Trump’s often-stated position of building a wall to keep illegal immigrants from coming to America from Mexico.
Freddy Bromell, also waiting to register to vote, had a simple reason that he was planning to vote for Clinton.
“I think he’s (Trump) crazy,” Bromell said.
A lot of the concern about EDR in New Haven is because of what happened in 2014, when New Haven registered the most voters, 616, on Election Day. However, they also turned away at least 50 voters who were left standing in line when the clock struck 8 p.m.
Registrars are not required to submit EDR staffing levels to Merrill’s office, but there is a recommended formula for how many people should be enough to handle Election Day Registration. The city of New Haven told the state it planned to have nine people handling EDR. That number is too small based on the formula, Gallahue said.
The other concern was that registrars in some towns missed the trainings, but the state’s top election official is specifically concerned about cities and towns with higher populations of college students. He said Merrill did have staff work directly with a number of towns, including New Haven, to check on preparedness.
Neither New Haven Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans or Republican Registrar Delores Knight could be reached for comment for this story.
State officials are hoping that the crush of last minute voters will be partially mediated by the fact that more than 2.1 million voters have already registered to vote, which is greater than the number of registered voters in 2008, the previous record for voter registration in the state.
“In many ways, this is a year of firsts,” Merrill said. “It is the first presidential election in which we’ve had Election Day registration, online voter registration, and the introduction of the online results reporting system. We hope that all these services will benefit the voters of Connecticut.”
Merrill is urging anyone who is planning to still register to vote sometime today, in New Haven or anywhere else, “to go to the Election Day registration site early.”
“Please plan to arrive early in the day as there may be long lines. You must be registered by 8 p.m. in order to vote. You will need to provide proof of identity and residency,” Merrill said.
A list of Election Day registration sites is available at myvote.ct.gov.
Approximately 30,000 used EDR to cast their ballot, according to Secretary of State’s office.
“We suspected these numbers would be high, but this is a surprise even to us,’’ Merrill said.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.