Election day balloting issues casts shadow on integrity of the system

MANSFIELD -- It’s been three full days since the election, and some ballots cast on and before that day are still being counted and recounted.

The publicized problems with people, processes and equipment has cast a shadow on the system. Fox 61 took a look at what went right, what went wrong, and how it can be fixed. Understaffing, faulty ballot boxes, wet ballots, same day registration chaos. It all came to a head for the midterms. Our Fox 61 viewers told us about a variety of election day voting issues across the state. It’s raised questions.

“First of all, let’s talk about everything that went right,” said Secretary of State Denise Merrill. “It was a lot! We had record turnout, record registration.” But that record turnout was also part of the challenge.

“It was much greater than what we would ever see in a midterm,” remarked Caroline Redding, the Democratic Registrar of Voters in Mansfield.

She wanted to set the record straight following what she called inaccurate reports and tweets about same day registration of UConn Students. “It was chaotic because there were a huge number of people here,” she said, 855 to be exact. Another 2,000 were registered in the two weeks leading up to election day. Mostly students and first time voters stood in line.

As the deadline approached, the registrars knew their system wasn’t fast enough to process all the people who remained. “At 7:30 we switched over and we had all the people who were in line fill out paper registration cards,” said Redding. The people were approved, asked for I.D. and allowed to vote. All 155 ballots were set aside and eventually counted after a court ordered injunction was dropped. She said there was no mass swearing in of voters.

“The problem that occurred in New Haven and I guess now in my hometown of Mansfield where you have lots of students who show up on Election Day is really a lack of staffing. To put another 10 people in place would not have cost that much money,” said Merrill. But the registrar begs to differ. “We have small town resources and we have basically a big city living in our town,” said Redding.

There were no wet ballots in Mansfield, but plenty in other cities and towns. They clogged voting machines. Thousands of ballots had to be hand counted. Secretary of State Denise Merrill said it’s still a better system then electronic voting. “We have paper. Yes, I guess it gets wet now and then. But all that really does is delay the counting,” said Merrill.

So what can we fix moving forward? “Early voting. Early voting would solve a lot of this. You shouldn’t have so much pressure on Election Day,” said Merrill. “It would be helpful if the legislature decided to change the same day registration process to being in line by 8 o’clock versus being accepted by 8 o’clock,” said Redding. You can also register to vote online. If you have a balloting issue to report, the state has established a hotline (1-866-733-2463)

Secretary of State Merrill says it’s difficult because as elected officials, she has no authority over the local registrars. She says she wants to see more accountability and establish regional oversight for balloting.