HARTFORD, CT — Early Wednesday morning, both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial campaigns sent their supporters home without knowing the outcome of the election because several towns, including New Haven, had still not reported their results.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she thinks people’s expectations about how quickly information is reported has changed.
She said that in some places local election officials had to hand-count ballots and they were still counting at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
She said voter turnout was also much higher than expected. According to the unofficial results, 66.94 percent of voters statewide turned out to vote on Tuesday.
There were problems for the third year in a row with Election Day Registration in New Haven. Four-hour waits, not enough election staff, and problems with voting machines breaking down were some of the issues facing voters in the Elm City.
“I think that they were very unprepared for election day registration. I don’t think there is any excuse for that. It has happened before,” Merrill, who was re-elected Tuesday as Secretary of the State, told the New Haven Independent.
She noted that local officials deputized Yale law students later in the day to help process new registrations in the state’s system. That can be done, and can be planned for in advance, she said.
“Granted, it was a larger than expected turnout. But we did advise them: Expect a larger turnout,” Merrill said.
What can the Secretary of the State do about it?
“Nothing,” Merrill said in an interview in her office Wednesday morning. Her office has no legal authority over locally elected Registrars of Voters.
“You have to remember these are locally administered elections,” she said. “We advise localities on how to perform. Occasionally we would bring a complaint on behalf of a voter and those complaints are lodged with the Elections Enforcement Commission.”
If people feel they were disenfranchised Tuesday, they need to contact the State Elections Enforcement Commission. The hotline they ran on Election Day received more calls than it typically does on a given election day.
Merrill said elections are administered locally, but they are also paid for locally, “and that’s the problem.”
Communities like New Haven have been struggling to balance their budgets and spending more than the previous year on an election is not easy.
However, “I would argue it’s not appropriate — if it’s the third time they’ve not staffed it and disenfranchised people then that’s a problem,” Merrill said.
But failing to devote enough resources to voting comes with its own set of consequences.
“New Haven’s repeated failure to staff its polling places with enough workers to ensure people’s rights to vote is practically inviting a lawsuit,” ACLU of Connecticut legal director Dan Barrett said on Tuesday. “The long lines and discouraged voters we saw today were a completely avoidable situation.”
The ACLU of Connecticut wants to hear from voters who were not able to cast their ballot in New Haven on Tuesday.
Voters who went to New Haven intending to vote and were unable to do so can contact the ACLU of Connecticut using this form:
But New Haven wasn’t the only town that had problems Tuesday.
Merrill said they started getting phone calls after 10 a.m. about machines breaking down and jamming due the rain and moisture being brought into the polling places.
She said local election officials all have back up machines, but those were breaking down as well when moisture was involved.
Merrill said she heard anecdotally that similar problems happened in 2006, the first year they used the new voting tabulators. Election officials dried out the ballots with fans and set them aside until they dried, and then fed them through the machine later in the evening.
Merrill said voting continues no matter what.
She wasn’t sure yet how many towns experienced problems with dampness and machine breakdowns because that’s not something Registrars have to report. She said she assumes if they did have those kinds of problems, they must have figured them out because they all, except for New Haven, reported their numbers before midnight.
The unofficial results from Merrill’s office show statewide voter turnout was 66.94 percent and Governor-elect Ned Lamont beat Republican Bob Stefanowski by 38,672 votes.