HARTFORD, CT — John Lavoy voted this morning at the Hartford Seminary because he’s lost so much trust in the current administration that he wanted to make sure his vote was being counted.
“It’s time for change,” Lavoy said, referring to the presidential contest.
Lavoy, like every resident in Connecticut, was given an opportunity to vote by absentee ballot. He decided it was better to vote in person “to know my vote was being counted.”
“I was motivated to get involved and vote because of the nightmare four years ago,” Fabienne Pierre-Maxwell said.
Isis Thomas said she was motivated to vote “by the times we’re living in.”
“We need to do the right thing so our children have a better way of life,” Thomas said.
“I’ve been in war zones, the whole nine yards. I need to be here. It’s my civic duty to come out and vote.”
–James Smith, Enfield
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill also voted in person at the Hartford Seminary Tuesday.
She said the line was deceiving because people need to stand so far apart for social distancing. She said long lines were reported everywhere Tuesday morning.
More than 636,000 voters have voted by absentee ballot, but that’s only about 27.6% of the 2.3 million eligible voters in the state.
The Connecticut Town Clerks Association had prepared for as many as 66% of the state’s voters casting their ballots by absentee.
Merrill: About 50% Had Voted By Noon
By noon Tuesday, Merrill was reporting that about 50% of registered voters had already gone to the polls. That includes the 27.6% of voters who had returned absentee ballots, Connecticut seemed on track for record turnout.
“Clearly people are voting and voting in big numbers,” Merrill said.
“I think it’s wonderful. I can throw away all those speeches I used to make about the apathy of voters because nobody is apathetic this year, that’s for sure.”
Merrill said she was surprised to see the number of people who came out to the polls in person despite the ongoing pandemic.
“I think a lot of people asked for absentee ballots thinking ‘I’ll keep them and decide at the last minute if I want to go in person,’ because we did allow them that option. It just goes to show that, when you give people options, you don’t know exactly which one they’re going to take,” she said.
Merrill, the state’s top election official, said there had been a few reported issues, including long lines in some areas. She said a couple of polling locations had their power knocked out by wind earlier Tuesday but the electricity was quickly restored.
Mix Up In New London
Meanwhile, a ballot mix-up in New London left election officials there tracking down voters who already voted using ballots featuring candidates in a state representative race from another district, Merrill said. Those voters will be permitted to cast their votes for one of the correct candidates in that race, she said.
“There are two districts that got mixed up for a group of voters but we can rectify it, so we’re going to allow them to vote for all the offices except for the one that’s in question and that would be two different state rep districts,” she said.
Merrill said towns are required to print enough ballots for each registered voter.
“We all know now from previous elections, there is a process by which you can print more ballots, put your stamp on them in the town and keep on going, which is what should happen. The election should never stop. So we’re hoping all the training we’ve done with the local officials, they know what to do if that happens,” she said.
Typically, only 5% of Connecticut’s electorate votes by absentee ballot. That’s partly due to the restrictions that are in place. This year, those restrictions were lifted by the General Assembly due to the global pandemic.
“In Connecticut, we have a long history of voting in person,” Merrill said. “Usually only 5% of people vote by absentee ballot and I talked to lots of people who said: ‘I still want to vote in person.’ It’s sort of a tradition here.”
Merrill wanted to make sure voters understood that they can drop their absentee ballot in the ballot box outside of their town hall until 8 p.m. Tuesday night.
Connecticut is not a postmark state, so it’s possible that there will be results posted before midnight on the Election Management System.
“I’m thinking most of our towns will be done tonight by midnight, which is the usual deadline,” Merrill said.
She said she’s spoken with election officials in some towns that don’t plan to count the absentee ballots that come in on Election Day until the following day so that could make a difference in a close race.
Enfield Expects To Count Half The ABs Tuesday, Half Wednesday
Lewis Fiore, the Democratic registrar of voters in Enfield, said officials there decided not to take advantage of a new state law enabling some local officials to begin processing absentee ballots on Friday.
“There wasn’t enough bang for our buck to do that,” Fiore said. “The two or three hours we might have gained was not worth it.”
The town had a team of nine people working on processing and counting thousands of absentee ballots. As of Monday, Enfield residents had returned more than 7,000 absentee ballots, according to the secretary of the state’s office. Fiore said he expected the tally would be closer to 8,000 by Tuesday night. He said the town would submit unofficial results to the secretary of the state’s office by midnight but may still be counting absentee votes as late as Wednesday night.
“Our goal is to do half today and half tomorrow,” he said.
While the team processed ballots downstairs, election workers on the first floor processed same-day voting registrations. Fiore said new voters had been coming in at a steady rate all morning. By 11 a.m., 55 new voters had registered at the town hall. He said he expected there to be hundreds by the end of the day.
“Last time [in 2016] there was a big line in the morning and then it trickled off. This time it’s been consistent,” he said.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, who is on the ballot this year in Hartford, said they expect about 35% of his district to vote by absentee ballot. He said that’s less than people thought, but he’s not worried it sends the wrong signal.
He said it means there will still be about 4,000 to 5,000 people coming to the polls in just his House district, which is in the west end of Hartford.
“We expect to have most of our state House rep race election results tonight,” Ritter said.
Ritter said law enforcement is expected to assist registrars do the final check and lock of the ballot boxes, which will close at 8 p.m.
Busy In Berlin
Armando Mandaros, 63, of Berlin, made sure he showed up at the Veterans of Foreign Wars polling location by 8 a.m. to cast his vote in person because he said he didn’t trust the absentee ballot process.
“It’s better to come,” said Mandaros, a native of the Philippines. “I’m not trusting the paperwork and the computer.”
Mandaros wants a candidate who “can help the country,” which is why he voted in the election. “It’s not like the Philippines,” he said. “There’s a lot of corruption there.”
Berlin VFW polling site moderator Mary Katherine LaRose showed up to find voters lined across the parking lot, wound along the back edge and through the lanes in the dark, she said.
“There were cars parked down the street,” LaRose said.
By 8 a.m., business had been brisk with several minor issues, including several people who were unregistered and a voting machine that was persnickety about the way ballots needed to be placed inside.
During the few minutes when someone wasn’t asking her a question on how to deal with an issue, LaRose was wiping down voting stations and pens.
“It feels like it’s been all day but it’s only been two hours,” LaRose said with a laugh.
It’s the kind of day election officials work hard to produce, said New Britain Democratic Registrar Lucian Pawlak. “I’ve had a smile on my face every time I looked at those long lines,” Pawlak said. “That’s what you hope for. I think people are taking this one very seriously.”
The day started at 6 a.m. with a line running down Slater Road for the polling location at DiLoreto Magnet School, Pawlak said. Within the first hour, 1,638 people had checked in to vote. The number dwindled to a few hundred an hour by midday but Pawlak was expected voting to pick up by 4 p.m. with a rush occurring until the polls closed.
There have been no significant problems other than long lines, which is a “good issue.” “Just watching the people in line, it’s amazing,” he said. “Everyone is social distancing and people are being good, they are getting along while they are in line and there’s no complaining.”
By about 1:30 p.m., 10,026 New Britain residents had voted. “If you take into consideration the more than 6,000 absentee ballots that were sent out and if you take out the 5,000 inactive voters on the list, we were at about 50 percent,” Pawlak said. “We’re hoping to have a hell of a turnout,” he added.
Officials with the state Elections Enforcement Commission are hearing similar reports, said agency spokesman Joshua Foley. “It’s been pretty typical and there hasn’t been any major problems,” Foley said.
About 160 people had called the election hotline to ask questions but no formal complaints have been filed, Foley said. The calls centered on questions on masks at the polls and registration, he said.
“We expect to have 400 to 500 calls by the time the day is over,” Foley said.
Brisk Pace At The Enfield Senior Center
Moderator Philip Kober said roughly 600 people had cast ballots at the Enfield Senior Center by 8:30 a.m.
At its longest during the opening rush, the line was about an hour long but had been moving quickly ever since.
Kober said the process had been smooth and turnout seemed high, especially given that about 30% of the town’s voters had already cast absentee ballots.
The moderator reported few issues. Voters had arrived at the polls willing to wear masks and comply with social distancing requirements, he said.
A handful of voters arrived wearing clothing containing a candidate’s name, something that violates Connecticut campaign law. Kober said voters were understanding and willing to take off their campaign hats.
“The new thing is the masks with the candidates’ names on them. People have been willing to turn them inside out,” he said, adding that poll workers also had masks on hand.
Outside, a line of socially-distanced voters wrapped around the senior center. The line moved quickly. Voters gave a number of reasons for making the trek to the polls on a chilly morning in the middle of a pandemic, but most boiled down to a sense of civic duty and a general mistrust for the absentee voting process.
“I wanted to make sure my vote counted,” said Nell Motto of Enfield. “I don’t trust the absentee ballots. Not this year.”
“I’ve always voted in person and this year won’t be an exception,” her husband, Vince Motto, said.
The Mottos arrived at the polls first thing in the morning and found the line stretched around the building and folding back into the parking lot. They left, went to church, and then came back.
A supporter of President Donald Trump, Vince Motto said his primary issue was abortion laws.
“I’m concerned about the right to life. I used to be a Democrat then changed to Republican because I can’t support a party that supports death,” he said.
The Mottos were also closely following their state senate race. They said they were planning to support long-serving Enfield Republican Sen. John Kissel. They said Kissel has been unfairly targeted this year because he is an employee of Eversource Energy.
“He’s been opposed by people picking on him because the poor man has to have a job,” Vince Motto said.
Eric Hatcher, 50 of Enfield, said he would have preferred to vote absentee but had been traveling and didn’t apply for an absentee ballot in time so he decided to make the trip.
“I’ve got to do it. This is an important election,” he said. Hatcher said he was glad to be in a long line of voters. “Happy to see it. It’s a beautiful thing. I love it. Express yourself.”
Asked what issues were driving him to the polls this year, Hatcher, who said he planned to vote for former Vice President Joseph Biden, said there were many.
“You can start with integrity and move on to race relations and our international standing,” he said.
James Smith, 57 of Enfield, said after almost 12 years in the Air Force, he wasn’t fazed by some long lines at the polls.
“I’ve been in war zones, the whole nine yards. I need to be here. It’s my civic duty to come out and vote,” he said.
Smith, who said he would likely support Biden, was mostly concerned about the nation’s international standing under President Trump.
“You’ve gotta have a coalition to survive in this world and ours is breaking down completely,” he said. “We look like a bunch of idiots on the international stage.”
Amanda Pickett, 36 of Enfield, waited in line with her husband and two young children. She said she wanted to cast her ballot in person.
“I just want to make sure it gets counted. It also demonstrates the process for the little ones,” she said.
Pickett, who planned to vote for Biden, said national issues had her concerned this year, especially issues surrounding social justice.
“I just want everyone to be treated like they need to be treated,” she said, adding that people should not be discriminated against based on their race, religion, or sexual preference. “We need to treat people as people.”
No Lines At Some Polling Places In Hamden And North Haven
At polling places in Hamden and North Haven, there were no lines to be seen. At the unusually quiet Booker T. Washington Academy, Cynthia Sanchez, 19, said she decided to vote in person because it seemed easier than voting by mail.
“Mail-in seemed confusing,” Sanchez said. “I was just available today so I said, ‘Might as well’.”
In North Haven, Donna Spose, 67, said she voted in person because of the meaning it holds.
“It’s a statement,” Spose said.
Spose, who said she votes every year, considers voting a way to practice her civic duty and to ensure a better future for her grandkids. Her biggest statewide issue is preventing legislation that would add tolls to Connecticut roadways.
“I come from New Jersey – I know what tolls are like,” Spose said.
Emma Zihal, 21, of New Haven, stood outside Hamden Middle School with a sign encouraging Democrats to vote “Row A.” While she had voted herself in New Haven, she said the work doesn’t end with voting.
“This election is a really pivotal moment for everything – climate change, civil rights, every aspect,” Zihal said.
Zihal has been helping out state Rep. Josh Elliott, an incumbent running for re-election to the 88th District since July.
“I am here with them today to direct Democrats to vote Row A to provide guidance and energy to voters,” Zihal said.
Lamont Stops In Manchester To Thank Poll Workers & Voters
At a polling location at Manchester High School, Gov. Ned Lamont said he was on his ninth stop of the day and was encouraged by what he’d seen.
“I just love the fact that people know how important it is to vote, that it makes a difference, you know? We get all cynical about politics and politicians and yet, every four years it makes a difference. Look,” the governor said, motioning to voters walking into the high school. “I was down in New Haven, they were waiting in line an hour and a half. Stamford an hour and a half. Here it’s just 20 minutes. But I love it.”
Lamont said he had not heard any reports of intimidation at the polls, which was a concern for some ahead of the election. He said that some jurisdictions have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of absentee ballots that voters have returned.
“It could take a little longer. We tried to make some accommodations to make it a little easier for them. We’ll see what that means,” he said.
In general, Lamont said he was happy with the absentee voting process this year.
“I think it’s worked pretty well. I think the people liked absentee balloting. I think it’s easier, it makes for less crowding here,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to show people we did it safely and with integrity.”
Christine Stuart, Hugh McQuaid, Lisa Backus, and Emily DiSalvo contributed to this report.