Voters scrambled to town halls across the state Monday morning to meet the noon deadline for joining a political party so they could take part in today's presidential primaries.
Registrars reported that the crowds were some of the largest they have seen in decades — and that more unaffiliated voters were joining the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.
That's the way things have been going since the November municipal elections, according to the secretary of the state's office. From Nov. 1 through the end of January, more than 34,000 new voters registered — about 17,500 as Democrats and about 6,300 as Republicans. During that time, more than 13,300 unaffiliated voters switched their registration to the Democratic Party and more than 3,600 enrolled in the Republican Party.
The number of residents who joined a party in the past few days was not available Monday, but by all accounts, the trend continued.
In Middletown, groups of Wesleyan students — some new voters, others unaffiliated and looking to register as Democrats — crowded the basement of city hall Monday morning.
Barbara Corvo, the Republican deputy registrar of voters, said people arrived at city hall before the office opened at 8:30 a.m. and kept streaming in, even after the noon deadline.
"The Wesleyan kids will have a lot to do with the outcome of the election in Middletown," Corvo said.
Corvo, a longtime registrar, said it has been more than two decades since she has seen such crowds at the office the day before a primary.
"I would compare it with 1980," Corvo said referring to the year that incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter ran against Republican Ronald Reagan and third-party candidates John B. Anderson and Libertarian Ed Clark. "And that year, it was out of sight."
"It's been like the Oklahoma land rush here," said Ed Leary, Farmington's Republican registrar. "We've had people strung out the door, waiting to sign up or switch over to a party."
In East Hartford, about 100 residents registered or declared a party affiliation Monday.
"They were here waiting when we opened this morning," said Mary J. Mourey, the Republican registrar for more than 29 years. "I have never in my life seen this many people who are interested in voting," said Genevieve A. Clark, the Democrat registrar of voters in Avon.
Clark said that since Jan. 16, 175 Avon residents have registered to vote and 150 voters have changed parties, most of whom have become Democrats.
In West Hartford, Town Clerk Essie Labrot said that, along with high numbers of people registering to vote, the number of absentee ballots for the primaries Tuesday also is unusually high — about 720, compared with about 420 for the primaries in 2000.
Registrars said they were having trouble entering voter information into the state's computers, which caused delays but did not prevent people from registering.
Instead of entering all of the new voter data directly into a centralized voter registration system — as they had planned — registrars who could not get into the system created manual supplemental lists that would later be added to the centralized system.
The computer problems were caused by a surge in activity Monday morning and then after the lunch hour, said Lesley D. Mara, deputy secretary of the state.
Mara said representatives of the state Department of Information Technology thought they had solved the problems Monday afternoon, but Edward "Butch" Dzwonkowski, New Britain's Democratic voter registrar, said they continued after 4 p.m.
"When am I going to be here? Until midnight, probably," Dzwonkowski said.
Dzwonkowski said state officials should have done a better job of preparing the voter registration system before today's rush.
"They knew that if everybody logged in at once, they were going to have problems," he said.
Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz has attributed the surge in voter registration to the moving of Connecticut's primary from March to February. Participating in the Super Tuesday primary, according to Bysiewicz, gives candidates a "real stake" in Connecticut.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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