Voter turnout during Tuesday’s traditionally sleepy municipal elections was averaging about 12% across Connecticut towns and cities, according to a mid-Election Day update from Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas.
“So far, elections across the state are rolling out without incident,” Thomas told reporters during a noon press conference held in her state Capitol office. “We’ve had a couple of calls into the hotline, but, happily, all the issues were easily resolved.”
As the state’s top election official, Thomas’s office spent Tuesday morning monitoring municipal contests in nearly all of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities, which opened their polling locations at 6 a.m. and would operate them until 8 p.m.
The low mid-day turnout number was not surprising. Voter turnout during off-year municipal elections typically lags behind election cycles with presidential or gubernatorial candidates at the top of the ticket. During the last municipal election cycle in 2021, voter turnout ultimately averaged around 32%, according to her office.
However, the mayoral contest in Bridgeport has captured public attention due to a Superior Court judge’s unprecedented ruling ordering the town to conduct a new Democratic primary election in light of “shocking” evidence of absentee ballot misconduct by supporters of incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim.
The order puts a cloud of uncertainty over Tuesday’s election in Bridgeport. Democratic challenger John Gomes, who challenged the results of the September primary after apparently losing by 251 votes, appeared on Tuesday’s ballots as an independent candidate. His legal team has stated it would withdraw their complaint if Gomes emerged this week as the victor.
Thomas said that many questions remained regarding how Tuesday’s election would ultimately impact the eventual results of Bridgeport’s mayoral contest.
“No one truly knows,” Thomas said, adding that the judge has allowed parties to continue submitting briefs in the case until mid-November. “I think this is far from over and only a judge can make that determination.”
Despite the uncertainty regarding the mayoral race, Thomas reassured Bridgeport voters that their votes for every other position on the ballot would count.
A newly appointed interim election monitor – former lawmaker Peggy Reeves – was observing the Bridgeport process from a central ballot-counting location, Thomas said. The monitor had yet to report any issues, she said.
Reeves’ appointment initially went unremarked upon by the Secretary of the State, which prompted a press release from Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, who questioned “Why the secrecy? Why the lack of transparency?” in a press release last week.
On Tuesday, Thomas framed the absence of an announcement as a strategic decision.
“Since when do the police announce a raid?” she said. “It doesn’t take a genius to know you don’t tell someone you’re coming to investigate them. We wanted to get the election monitor installed without warning.”
Bridgeport was not among the towns reporting turnout results as of the noon press conference. Thomas said it was not unusual for some cities to lag behind in their reporting.
Of the municipalities reporting midday numbers, the town of Kent has the highest turnout by percentage. The town had reported 491 voters had cast ballots for a turnout of about 23.6% of registered voters.
Nearly 9,100 voters in Greenwich had cast ballots for around 23.4% of the town’s registered voters.
Meanwhile, more than 1,500 voters had turned out as of noon in the town of Suffield, totaling about 15.5% of the town’s registered voters.
More than in higher-turnout election cycles, municipal elections are often driven by uniquely local issues. In Suffield, a small town just west of the Connecticut River, one of those issues was the departure of the town’s library director, who resigned amid political pressure from town leaders.
According to a farewell letter published in the Suffield Observer, director Julie Styles resigned based in part on what she viewed as undue control and censorship from the town’s government. Part of the issue stemmed from First Selectman Colin Moll’s decision to have Styles stop displaying a children’s book covering the use of certain pronouns, according to the CT Mirror.
Moll, a Republican seeking re-election Tuesday, said the decision was an attempt at compromise in response to complaints about the book and that he had not ordered the book removed from the library.
However, the library issue has become central to the campaign of Rick Sotil, an unaffiliated candidate challenging Moll for the first selectmen seat.
Both men stood near each other outside of the town’s middle school polling location on Tuesday morning, greeting voters as they made their way to the school’s gymnasium.
Sotil, who moved to the United States from Cuba as a child, said Moll’s decision to shelf the book infringed on the First Amendment.
“The way I see these guys acting, it reminds me of communism in Cuba,” Sotil said. “It’s not just an attack on the First Amendment, it’s an attack on our way of life.”
Sotil, who described himself as a centrist, said he favored transparency and common sense.
His message resonated with Amy Healy, a voter who stopped to speak with Sotil on her way to cast her ballot.
“We need change in Suffield and we need elected officials who are going to stand up for First Amendment rights,” Healy said. “It’s important for us to be at the polls and speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
Nearby, Moll characterized the library issue as a manufactured dispute by special interest groups and his opponent to create controversy in an otherwise contented community. Voter Richard A. Stokes stopped to shake Moll’s hand.
Stokes said displaying a childrens’ book discussing gender pronouns in the public library did not seem right to him.
“At a certain age, you’re supposed to teach kids about the birds and the bees,” Stokes said, suggesting that age was in the later teens. “We need to make the right choice for the kids’ futures and make sure parents are taken care of.”
Moll said the public library had been well funded under his tenure and suggested that the library director had brought politics into the equation before her departure. He expected Suffield voters would determine whether the town considered the director’s departure to be an issue when they cast their ballots Tuesday.
“Putting aside the library issue, everything is good in Suffield,” he said. “Do we have an issue or don’t we? We’re going to find out tonight. Let’s see what the votes are.”