This post has been updated.
About half of Connecticut’s registered voters had cast a ballot by noon Tuesday, thanks to heavy turnout early in the day and an unprecedented number of absentee ballots, according to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
About 636,000 of the state’s 2.3 million voters already had voted before the polls opened at 6 a.m. under the provisions of a temporary law that allows every voter to use an absentee ballot for the first time due to a suddenly resurgent COVID-19 pandemic. Nationally, a stunning 99.6 million votes had been cast, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
“We are hearing all across the state a really, really large turnout. And you’re seeing it right here,” Merrill said.
Counting of some absentee ballots has also begun. In Hartford, for example, some 11,000 have already been processed, Assistant Town Clerk Eric Lusa said. About 13,000 were originally sent out, he said.
Merrill spoke to reporters outside a polling place at the Charter Oak International Academy, a public school in West Hartford. A line snaked out the door and around the parking lot.
“I can throw away all those speeches I used to give about the apathy of voters, because nobody is apathetic this year,” Merrill said.
Brandi Wirz, who wore a rainbow face mask, waited with the youngest of her three school-age children, her 4-year-old daughter, Finnley, for about 25 minutes to reach the front of the line.
She votes in a district where the results are certain: a Democratic sweep from the top to the bottom of the ballot. But Wirz said not voting was not an option.
“I obviously vote in every election,” said Wirz, a Biden voter. “But this one I feel is most important to try to get some change. I’m thinking about a more loving and considerate candidate for the future of our children and our community.”
Midday turnout update: including the ~25% of voters who voted by absentee ballot, almost 50% of registered voters have cast their ballots by noon! pic.twitter.com/laUBiBAH3g
— Denise Merrill (@SOTSMerrill) November 3, 2020
Wirz said she brought her daughter to witness a vote that she hopes will contribute to the election of the first woman as vice president. Her husband will vote with another of their children.
“We wanted the kids to be part of his — and hopefully be making history,” Wirz said. “Although I did think that last time when I voted for Hillary.”
Behind her was Francisco Munoz, a UConn junior and a first time presidential voter.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Munoz intended to cast a vote for president and probably would skip the down-ballot races.
In his social circle, some of friends were less interested in voting, because Connecticut is an overwhelmingly blue state.
“They don’t think it matters,” he said.
But other young residents – even those too young to vote – think otherwise. Standing at the entrance of the gymnasium at Conte West Hills Middle School in New Haven, Clifford White greeted an elderly lady and guided her to a table to start the process of voting—something he himself is too young to do.
White, 16, said that he wanted to work at the polls today for many reasons. For one, he’s been acutely aware of the “racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia” in society, particularly from his perspective as a young Black man.
“I’ve realized how much politics affects our day-to-day lives — policies, our economy, our prisons and incarceration system, our racist institutions, many different facets,” he said.
A junior at Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven, he said that as he has become more politically conscious over the years, he started volunteering for nonprofit organizations, joined the youth chapter of the NAACP, and recently attended protests like the ones for Breonna Taylor. Working at the polls was a natural next step in what he sees as a long future of political engagement.
“I felt that being here, being hands-on as best as possible, would better my chances of really understanding what it really means to be a democracy,” he added.
White is just one of many youths who, too young to vote themselves, are working at polls today out of personal investment and a zeal for civic action.
At the New Haven Free Public Library, Aleena Chaudry and Jailene Resto, both 16 and juniors at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, have been manning the front and guiding voters since the polls opened at 6 a.m.
Chaundry said she signed up because she was excited to “see the election process happening,” preparing her for when she’s able to vote in two years. It felt especially important to work this year, she said.
“With everything going on, with the injustice happening and basic human rights being taken away not only here but all around the world, I wanted to learn more about the policies and politics behind everything,” she said.
Resto said that the political energy and conviction of her generation is motivated in part by the fact that they are more affected in the long term.
“A lot of adults don’t realize that they’re voting for something now, but in 20 years, that thing is probably not going to affect them,” Resto said. “It’ll affect us, that’s why we care so much about it.”
Many voters mentioned the ongoing pandemic as one of the motivating factors behind their vote.
In Mansfield, Frank and Lucinda Vonduntz were thinking of their family as they cast their ballots.
“We haven’t seen our grandchildren since March, some of them,” said Lucinda. “It’s very hard to be so isolated.”
The couple said that they wanted to vote in person, despite coronavirus, because of the uncertainty created by President Donald Trump over counting absentee ballots.
“We risked it, and came here because we want our vote to be counted,” said Frank Vonduntz.
Also in Mansfield, Vicki Magley said she wants more focus on controlling the pandemic. Connecticut’s coronavirus positivity rate has risen steadily in the last month, and Gov. Ned Lamont has announced the state will roll back to Phase 2 of reopening at the end of this week. Meanwhile, several states around the nation continue to report record high numbers of both infections and hospitalizations.
“I’m voting because of the disbelief in science and also just the general mistreatment of people, that we can’t care for our needy and our elderly with COVID.” Magley said. “It’s ridiculous that we have such a disparity in income in such a wealthy country.”
Voting going smoothly; no crush of UConn students this year
Merrill said the voting was going smoothly, with the exception of a ballot mix-up in New London, where the wrong House district was on the ballot.
Gov. Ned Lamont said public safety officials are monitoring social media for evidence of efforts to disrupt voting or stage protests of the results.
“It’s not going to happen in Connecticut,” Lamont said. “Connecticut is going to be careful. We’re going to respect the power of the vote and respect the decisions.”
Long lines but few problems were reported at polling places across the state.
A steady stream of University of Connecticut students voted at the Mansfield Community Center through the morning, part of a turnout of more than 600 people who had arrived to the poll by around 10 a.m., moderators said.
In previous election years, students living on the Storrs campus had been shuttled to the polls in buses, and two years ago, the onslaught nearly overwhelmed the registrars because of a large number of same-day registrations. This year, with the number of on-campus students much smaller and a pandemic underway, students were arriving on their own.
Registrars were taking some same-day registrations there, but as of Tuesday morning, the numbers were not overwhelming. UConn’s Daily Campus reported earlier this week that the vast majority of students surveyed had already registered, and many will be voting at their home towns and states since they are attending class remotely.
The community center location is the only polling place for on-campus students. Like other residents, off-campus students in Mansfield are assigned a location nearest their residence.
Volunteers working the polls at Niantic Center School Tuesday morning said there was more focus on security this year prior to Election Day, and they noted the continual presence of police vehicles in the parking lot throughout the morning.
“It’s a weird time,” said Jackson Taylor, who is volunteering for the first time this year with his wife because “we figured this was the year we needed to step up.”
Jackson and fellow volunteer Ben Piascik, who were assigned to help voters who wanted to cast curbside ballots rather than enter the polls, said there’s an undercurrent of fear about the voting process. For example, when offered the chance to vote from their cars, some residents declined even though the ballots are walked into the polling place by election officials from different political parties to ensure the ballot is properly cast.
“There’s a level of mistrust,” Taylor said. “They would prefer to put it in themselves.”
Across the nation, few reports of trouble
Elsewhere, National Guard troops have been activated around the country. A roundup by the New York Times says as many as half the states could have troops on standby today. In this region, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has placed 1,000 troops on standby. In New Jersey, national guard troops have been assisting election workers for several days already.
Multiple news organizations have reported suspicious robocalls over the last few weeks across the country, warning people to “stay safe and stay home.” In Flint, Mich., in an apparent effort to suppress the vote, robocalls told residents to vote on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a U.S. district court judge has ordered the U.S. Postal Service to sweep facilities in a group of districts – almost all of them in swing states and tightly contested races – for undelivered mail-in ballots. Among the areas is northern New England. Judge Emmet Sullivan, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ordered the process to be completed by 3 p.m. Those ballots are ordered to be delivered immediately.
Connecticut officials pledged to deliver a safe voting experience at the polls, followed by a transparent and accurate count — albeit one that may not not be completed until Wednesday due to the large number of absentee ballots.
“Vote confidently. Everybody who wants to vote in this state will have the opportunity to cast their vote, and everybody who has cast their vote will have their vote counted,” Attorney General William Tong said. “We’re going to see to that.”
Lamont, a Democrat at the mid-point of his first term, campaigned over the weekend to reinforce a get-out-the-vote message aimed at exploiting Trump’s low-approval rating in the state, his dismal showing here in 2016, and a reluctance by Republicans to campaign for his reelection.
“I’m feeling pretty ramped up, amped up,” Lamont said. “I think we want to send a signal the last four years have been un-American, what’s going on in Washington. And I want a loud repudiation of that.”
Fellow Connecticut Democrats made about 23,000 phone calls and sent 300,000 text messages in the last two months, said spokeswomen Patty McQueen. Hundreds of volunteers also joined a “virtual phone bank” to call voters in swing states on behalf of the Biden-Harris ticket.
Republicans did the same thing; a party spokesman said the number of calls and texts would not be available until Wednesday.
Regardless, Republicans in the state say voters can repudiate the president without punishing the down-ballot ticket.
“I don’t see a blue tsunami coming our way,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who is not seeking re-election.
A record 2.3 million voters are eligible to vote in today’s election. New registrations have favored Democrats, who now outnumber Republicans in Connecticut, 850,046 to 480,026. The biggest bloc are the unaffiliated voters, 939,679.
Animus towards the president drove an unusually high turnout in the 2018 mid-term contests, helping Democrats here make their first legislative gains in a decade and leaving them confident about expanding their current majorities of 22-14 in the Senate and 91-60 in the House.
Five of the six Republican state senators facing rematches with their 2018 opponents are defending seats in districts that Trump lost in 2016 — by wide margins in four cases.
At the top of the target list is Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia. He won by just 85 votes in a recount over Jorge Cabrera, a Democrat of Hamden, in the 17th District. Trump lost by 9 points in the 17th, running strong in Naugatuck Valley towns like Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Derby and Naugatuck, while losing big in the New Haven suburbs of Hamden and Woodbridge.
Sen. Gennaro Bizzarro, R-New Britain, is seeking re-election in a district Trump lost by 23 points. Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, are in districts the president lost by 13 points and 14 points, respectively.
Security measures in place to prevent fraud
While Trump repeatedly has claimed baselessly that voting by absentee ballots is rife with fraud, election officials in Connecticut stress the security measures in place to ensure that no one casts an absentee ballot and then votes again at the polls. Only absentee ballots that arrive in today’s mail or are cast in drop boxes at a voter’s local town hall will be counted.
In Connecticut, absentee ballots are cast inside two envelopes. The outer one is marked with a bar code and the voter’s name and signature. The inner one contains the ballot and is meant to ensure the secrecy of the vote.
When a ballot is received at the local town clerk’s office prior to election day, it is scanned into a statewide voter system, and that person’s name is marked as having voted on a list used at the polls to check in voters.
Absentee ballots that arrive in the mail or are placed in secure drop boxes on election day are set aside until the polls close, when election officials confirm that those voters did not also vote at the polls.
“We’ll have a verification process at the end of the night to make sure. Every person gets one vote,” said Sue Larsen, the president of Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut.
The absentee ballots cast before election day can be counted beginning at 6 a.m. today. They are run through optical scanners, as is the case at the polls.
“We’ll go through until we’re finished,” Larsen said. “Some of the small towns may be able to be finished on election night. The … medium to larger towns and cities are probably going to do some of the counting on Wednesday.”
Communities have 96 hours to file their official results with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
Lawyers are standing by
To help resolve or monitor issues at the polls, the Connecticut Bar Association is arranging for 175 volunteer lawyers to serve as non-partisan designees of the secretary at the polls.
“We will objectively assess voting situations or inconsistencies brought to us by the Secretary of the State’s office, report back, and resolve issues promptly by communicating Secretary Merrill’s directives to the voting moderator,” said Amy Lin Meyerson, the CBA president.
Voters will be asked to wear a mask and observe social-distancing protocols at polling places, but curbside voting and other accommodations, such as providing them separate space, are available to voters who refuse to wear a mask or cannot wear one for medical reasons.
“The bottom line is no one will be allowed to endanger anyone else’s health,” Merrill said. “You have a constitutional right to vote. You don’t necessarily have a constitutional right to vote in a certain way.”
Election moderators can deny access to a voter who refuses to wear a mask and declines to cast a ballot curbside or in a separate space.
“We’ve gone over this issue over and over and over again. The people of this state, the people of this country have a constitutional right to vote,” Tong said. “But you do not have a constitutional right to endanger other people, and you don’t have a constitutional right to make other people sick.”