Elections panel reviews complaints, problems with November balloting
Published 6:36 am, Tuesday, January 13, 2015
A polling place that opened late, incorrect ballots and a lack of signs about special services available to voters during last November's election were among the complaints heard Monday by the Election Review Committee.
The four-member committee was appointed by the Board of Selectmen in December after what First Selectman Michael Tetreau said was the unusual number of complaints about the election process last Nov. 4.
The public was invited to attend the meeting and outline any problems they encountered on Election Day. A handful showed up, although the committee has also received emails about issues that voters encountered.
"My problem was with primarily Dwight School," newly elected state Rep. Laura Devlin, R-134, said of the polling station housed at the Redding Road school. "The school had opened late, and there was a line outside. I think it opened close to 10 minutes after six."
Once the doors did open, she said, since there was voting in two different legislative districts at the Dwight polls, there was confusion over the correct line voters should be in to cast their ballots.
Devlin's daughter, Elizabeth Harkawik, confirmed that the doors were not open at 6 a.m., and said it appeared the woman who was supposed to "direct traffic" to the vote-scanning machines for the correct district was unclear and "just clueless."
Harkawik said when she looked at her ballot, her mother's name was not on it. She had instead been given a ballot for the 132nd House District. "They didn't know how long they'd been giving out the wrong ballots," Harkawik said, and when she brought it to the attention of the poll workers, "I didn't get much of a reaction."
Of the town's 10 local districts, all but two were split among two or three General Assembly districts, an issue that should be corrected if a new redistricting plan under consideration by the Representative Town Meeting is adopted.
Catherine Albin, the committee's chairwoman, said the panel will get copies of the moderator's log from each voting district to confirm what time individual polling places opened.
Harkawik also said that no one asked her name or address when she presented her driver's license at the check-in desk, but Albin said that's not unusual now that voters are asked to provide an ID. Another complaint of Harkawik's was that at one polling place, a worker filled out a personal ballot in view of other polls workers.
"That's not illegal," Albin said. "If you want to show your ballot to the world, you can."
Representative Town Meeting member Carol Way, R-6, said she was concerned about a lack of signs indicating the availability for curbside voting for the elderly or handicapped. She said a woman came to the North Stratfield School poll to vote, and wanted to use the service but was unsure what to do. Way went inside and informed the moderator. "I just think we could be a little more voter friendly," Way said.
Former Town Attorney Richard Saxl said he was at the District 1 polls on election night when the vote scanner broke, and the memory erased, which meant that all 2,400 ballots cast earlier in the day had to be hand-fed into the scanner when it was fixed.
While Saxl said it meant for a long night, "The accuracy is what matters. So long as people can vote and their vote gets counted, that's all that matters."
Because the Registrars of Voters -- Republican Roger Autuori and Democrat Matthew Waggner -- could not agree that absentee ballots would be counted in one central location, as has been done in the past, the absentee ballots instead were counted at each polling place.
Two ballot scanners were provided to each polling place, with one used for scanning ballots cast in-person and the other for absentee ballots. Were the absentee ballots counted in one location, there would still be two scanners at the polls, but the second would only be used as a backup, according to the registrars.
Frustration with the long wait to get the results on election night was expressed by leaders of both political parties that night.
Joy Flynn said she was providing the vote tally for Reuters and the Associated Press and was waiting at old Town Hall as the election moderators returned that night, the first one around 10 p.m. The moderators had been at the polls since about 5 a.m., she said, and they "were sad, some were crying, some were angry, angry, angry."
As they filtered in, she said, each thought that they must the last district reporting, although that distinction went to District 1.
The committee expects to have a report prepared by the middle of February, and plans to spend the next two weeks studying the manual for district moderators. The members will first look at staffing, including training, before moving onto other aspects, including the ballots themselves and the voting machines.