In Hartford, Confusion May Produce Voter Suppression
By MIKE MCGARRY
October 26, 2012
Hartford may see unintended incidents of voter suppression during this coming election, Nov. 6.
As we saw in the 5th Assembly District Democratic primary election between Brandon McGee and Leo Canty, a very few votes could make a big difference. The 5th District primary was declared a tie after an August vote and went through two recounts, a trip to court and a second vote before being decided in McGee's favor.
Why would there be voter suppression in Hartford? Because, unless the registrars' office properly staffs the election, a number of polling places in the city could be full of confused, unhappy voters. People will leave the polls enraged, angry at the system and vowing never to vote in Hartford again.
Fortunately, the registrars of voters, with the approval of the secretary of the state's office, are making plans to have extra people at key polls to provide information and crowd control (at taxpayers' expense) to help voters.
Nevertheless, several factors could make a smooth election difficult Nov. 6.
First, the experience of the Aug. 4 primary. I worked in the polls and saw firsthand many people showing up at the wrong polling place because of redistricting. Voters in primaries (usually called prime voters) tend to be more involved and informed, different from the casual participants who only come out to the polls in presidential election years.
Even these more active voters were thwarted by the changes. This despite the mailing of informational cards to registered voters by the registrars in advance of the primary. The Courant, the Hartford News and other media alerted voters to the new voting districts. Still, people walked away rather than waiting for the correct information and going across town to their new polling places. This problem is likely to be significantly amplified in the general election, when voter turnout could be 75 percent as opposed to 17 percent in the primary.
Second, well over 2,000 new Hartford voters have registered for this election. And, in recent visits to city hall, I saw people two deep at the counter waiting to register. From my observation, they all needed guidance. Experience shows many will need help voting and with several cross-endorsed candidates such as Democrats and Working Families, Republicans and Independents, many ballots will be ruined. Voters will be confused, taking more time — lots of candidates, lots of choices. Of course, this means voting lines will get longer.
Third, as 2008 showed, during presidential elections hundreds of unregistered citizens show up — possibly as many as 500 — needing to vote with a provisional ballot. Each one is researched, tutored in voting and handled individually. Every moderator and assistant registrar will have to deal with some very confused people, they have to call the central registrars' office (lines are usually busy) to find out that, yes, those citizens aren't registered.
So, Election Day will find voters at the wrong location, new voters needing help, ballots ruined by multiple votes and hundreds of non-registered citizens demanding a ballot. What does that potentially add up to? Voter suppression. People walking away rather than waiting in line or running from place to place. It will take ample resources to avoid this outcome and the registrars are gearing up.
The mayor's office says there is enough money in the registrars' budget to cover the election. The registrars' office says that its budget for the rest of the year will be thrown into deficit if they run the election correctly, which they intend to do. Forcing a city department, with elected officials (the registrars) to come hat in hand before the year is half over certainly makes one wonder.
No one should advocate spending money unnecessarily, but clearly the circumstances surrounding this election require extra preparation and vigilance at the polls. The registrars' office and the mayor's office should be partners, not adversaries. Running smooth elections with co-operative back-up should be a major function of city government, no matter who is in what elective office.
Mike McGarry is Hartford's Republican town chairman and a former city councilman.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at