Quirk Of Addresses Brings A Huge Divide In West Hartford

by Categorized: Politics Date:


Working with the Secretary of the State’s office, West Hartford town officials acted quickly in the middle of the day to ease the oddity in which voters who live on some streets were seeing very long lines, while voters from other streets had virtually no wait — in the same polling places.

The imbalance happened at several of the town’s nine polling places, including Bristow Middle School, Conard High School, town hall and Braeburn Elementary School. And as of mid-afternoon, no one could say for sure why it was happening.

The solution was to split the books used to check off voters’ names in two, moving from two books at each polling place to four. That eased the lines, but it remained to be seen what would happen when the after-work rush brought a new flood of voters.

The moderator at Bristow had said the explanation was that the streets starting with N through Z included retirement homes, where residents typically do not vote in person. The moderator at Braeburn said the problem was an uneven number of registered voters between the A through M and N through Z lists.  Both asked that their names not b reported.

But, said Democratic Registrar of Voters Carolyn Thornberry, both explanations are wrong. She said she would work hard to figure out how the imbalance happened, but with a chaotic scene unfolding in the registrars’ office, that might not happen Tuesday.

Thornberry said she anticipated the problem when she visited some polling places at 6 a.m, and directed moderators to split the books at that time. Then, she said, 45 minutes later she found out in at least one case that a moderator has undone a split, returning to two books.

There was some confusion whether the book-splitting required state approval, as at least one moderator believed. Not true, Thornberry said.

Adding to the confusion and anger among some voters, the polling places did not all post a volunteer to tell people about the imbalance. At Bristow, which did post such a volunteer early in the day, Kevin McGrath and John Mooney of Vincent Road said they waited in line for an hour, never knowing that the moderator taking names for their street had no line at all.

By 2:30 p.m., Bristow had no lines at all, though the pace remained brisk.


Some polling places have long lines, others not so long.  At several places in West Hartford, they have both — at the same time.

At Bristow Middle School, voters on streets that start with A through M were sent to a queue that snaked through the hallways before reaching the cafeteria, a wait that exceeded an hour during the morning rush. But in the same location, voters on streets that start with N through Z had no wait at all.

How can that be? The number of registered voters in each book, A through M and N through Z, is the same, said the moderator, who asked not to be identified. Each has about 2,000 voters.  The law of averages says it can’t happen that one line would be consistently long and the other, basically non-existent. And the name-checker at the long line appeared to be moving as fast as reasonably possible.

At the Bristow Middle School in West Hartford, voters on some streets had an hourlong wait. Other streets, shown at right, had no wait. Dan Haar photo

As it happens, the N through Z streets include a number of retirement homes, especially on Steele Road — where a massive absentee ballot campaign was apparently successful. There’s no way to fix it by switching some streets, the moderator said, because the books are state certified in advance.

Voters reported a similar oddity at Town Hall, Braeburn School and the Elmwood Community Center.  Av Harris, spokesman for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, said Merrill has been working with the town’s registrars to ease the problem quickly.

“If there is something we can do to help alleviate those long lines, we will,” Harris said, cautioning that it’s not clear there is a solution once the voting is underway.

It’s a huge disparity, causing voters on their way to work to miss time at the office. As it is, the lines are generally longer since West Hartford consolidated from 20 polling places to nine a couple of years ago.

I’m on the A through M list at Bristow, and I’m heading back later to vote during the midday lull. But many couldn’t do that, and to their huge credit, few if any turned around and left during the morning logjam.



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30 thoughts on “Quirk Of Addresses Brings A Huge Divide In West Hartford

  1. Jim

    The exact opposite happened at Conard, there was no one in the line for A-M when I was there and probably 2-300 people in N-Z

  2. Marjorie

    Town Hall was a disaster. It is expected to wait in a long line in a Presidential election. However, their lack of planning and preparedness was evident. I saw many people leave without voting, and I hope that they return later today.

  3. WH Voter2

    Same thing at Braeburn School polling place. One hour wait in line for streets A-M while N-Z went right through with limited wait.

  4. Jane

    I don’t understand how the division of streets can be exactly the same at each polling place. It seems that all polling places did the divide at A-M and N-Z. Does that assume each polling place has the same number of voters in each? I could see if they split it by name, but not street.

  5. Ryan

    Same thing at Sedgwick this morning, and I heard horror stories about Town Hall, both as a voting location, and the chaos in the Registrar’s office. How hard is it to get one day out of the year right? Somebody’s got some explaining to do…

  6. Jackie

    I received a call stating I my voting loccation was Conard HS (previously voted always at Sedgewick MS). Seemed official, I knew consolidation was taking place, so didn’t quesiton this change. I saw the long lines at Conard, but was “lucky” to be in the short line. As I was checking in, I was told I was not on the list. I was at the wrong polling station! I should have been at Sedgewick. I drove over to Sedgewick, short lined again, and whew, was able to vote. Why was I called with misinformation? Why aren’t there at least two books per address groupings? We need some common sense and planning skills!

    1. Jane

      Do you still have the number of the person who called you? (on your caller ID). Perhaps the person who called simply made a mistake, but you can report it at 1-800-523-9848 which is for voter issues.

  7. Chris

    I was in the A-M queue at Bristow before 6:20am this morning and the line was already long then. My wife just called from the same location and said that she’s at the end of a very long line.
    Having more than just two people checking in voters might be helpful (perhaps 3 or 4 lines?), though the limited number of desks at which the voting forms are filled out could also be a chokepoint…

  8. WH Voter3

    There is no lull. I arrived at Hall High School around 10:30 and waited for roughly 45 minutes in the A-M line. In that time, I watched potential voters walk in and walk out. The elderly, or those unable to stand in these lines were given access to the front of the line. While I can understand their inability to wait in a line, there should have been a seperate line just so they wouldnt make a long wait in a long line even longer. Left around 11:30 and the line was longer. Made for a horrible experience.

  9. Already Voted

    So glad I already voted by absentee ballot. People love making chaos out of anything. Think ahead-you knew it was going to be a big election and long lines. Most of these people are volunteers. Take the time while you wait and line and chill!! Help one of those old people out, smile at a stranger. In some countries they shoot you on site if you vote. We are blessed to have this day! What we should be concerned about is that our schools are closed today and one less day for our children’s education. They close the school out of safety for our children. We are keeping our kids safe from us-the voters. Now that’s something to fret about!!

  10. jane

    it’s not just about the number of voters turning out but how they split the lines. Look at the West Hartford map of the voting district and each district has a predominant number of streets that start with A-M. The Bristow district appears to be the worst. This morning there were zero people in the N-Z line and the A-M line took an hour.

  11. Jim

    Why was Denise Merrill on NPR early this morning saying that she told West Hartford not to run the polls this way? Anyone in West Hartford want to answer to that?

  12. King Phillip

    Same at King Phillip. About 1 hour. Saw lots of people leave. A – M had a short wait. N – Z was barely moving. I think what was troublesome is that the number of voting sites in West Hartford was cut in half, but I didn’t see any adjustments made on the inside to accommodate what would be double the amount of voters. Only 1 person for A – M sign in, and 1 person for N – Z sign in.

    1. jane

      interestingly, it seems that the king philip voting district has the opposite situation where the street names predominantly start with N-Z. just seems like it isn’t rocket science and why couldn’t they have crunched some numbers beforehand to figure out how to divide the alphabet .

  13. Roberta Echelson

    Any number of valid issues, many of which showed up in previous comments. Presidential year probably not the best in which to consolidate voting places. But also organization at Bristow was really lacking. So were skills to calm people down. People were coming in from outside & walking thru the A-M snake line not knowing where to go. Arrows posted with directions A-M & N-Z would have really been helpful. No noticeable accommodation for those with difficulty standing a long time – except one poll worker who brought a chair. And, lest we forget, parking was horrible. As a former Bristow parent I’m well aware that Highland St. parking is not good under normal conditions, especially because of the nursing home and apartments. Today was also trash day. Can anyone say mess? Nevertheless, I waited an hour and would wait more. When I think about the people who today are being denied their right to vote, or who have waited in lines 6 hours and more for early voting, I consider that I am very, very lucky. We should manage it better, and probably will in the future, but we still can vote which is more than too many others can say.

  14. Richard Ruffee

    This is simple incompetence. There is no logical explanation for this, but yet, of course, town officials are defensive, arguing that they did thorough planning in advance of election day. Presumably, therefore, this was like the Superstorm — could not have been anticipated. Ridiculous. Someone take responsibility for this mess and make sure it doesn’t happen again. God knows, those granite curbs were important enough to be done without a hitch………

  15. John Killian

    You say, “to their credit, not many people turned around and left”. The problem is not everyone has the option of simply not showing up at work when they are expected. This snafu has the result of disenfranchising voters.

  16. Judy

    Conard was a mess! The N-Z line was so long it stretched down the hallway and out the door. The A-M line was practucakky empty. There was only ONE PERSON to sign in the long N-Z line and was swamped, while the person signing in the A-M line was sitting doing nothing. Parking was a nightmare. There was a teacher conference going on, and their cars took up lots of space. Elderly and disabled people had no where to sit and wait. I waited an hour to vote. Awful! I blame those TWO Registrars of Voters and I hope they get voted out of office. Those two created this mess and are responsible for it!

  17. Josh

    I arrived at Hall High before 8am. There only seemed to be one line. I walked to the back, when a volunteer asked what my street name was. I told her (N-Z), and she said “Oh, you’re in the other line.” Interestingly, there was no sign indicating that there even were two lines! I wonder how many people where in the long line just because it seemed to be the only line! 5 minutes later, I was done voting, and the long line had moved by two people.

  18. Larry Lunden

    An idea for coping with this situation:
    Split up the addresses for each polling site into four (4) books, with equal numbers of voters in each book.
    Then for busy locations with enough workers you could have four tables to check in voters.

    Or if you have two tables, you can move the books between tables in response to the lines. You could start off with the A-G book and the H-M book at one table and the N-T and the U-Z book at the other table. For example, if the A-M line got too long you would just move the H-M book to the other table and redirect the people in line. That way you would create an A-G line and an H-Z line.

    With three tables, one table would have two books and the other two would have one each. They could be adjusted through the day in response to the lines.

  19. Kasey

    One issue at Conard High School this morning was due to the speed at which the name-checkers worked. I counted it and the women who ran the A-M line worked up to 10x faster than the woman who ran the N-Z line (i.e. at one point 10 people could get through A-M for every one in N-Z)
    The poll workers refused this view constantly claiming the line disparity was because more people lived on N-Z streets than A-M. If that were true, then the 20th person in each line would have reached the front at the same time. Obviously, this was not happening. Even a 2x difference in name-checker speed would quickly result in significantly uneven lines.
    Why isn’t a supervisor at each polling station given the authority to split books and replace name-checker at his or her own discretion? Why do they have to wait for the secretary of state or registrar of voters to approve it?

  20. Deb

    I was in the A-M @7:30A at Braeburn and waited in line for an hour.I was told that there was nothing that could be done to make the process faster.
    I am a professional so had some liberty with my time and could wait.
    For folks who work hourly and punch a timeclock, an hour wait is a form of voter suppression – the need to get to work on time.
    I think that West Hartford needs to add some additional polling places. Obviously cutting back to 9 was too drastic.

  21. Dan

    At Sedgwick this morning the N-Z line was very long while the A-M moved through quickly. Once in the cafeteria both tables were next to each other and the table with the ballots was next to them. Thus there was a big bottleneck. Some holding ballots were mixed in with those waiting to have thair names checked. Some went directly to the collect their ballot without checking in. I guess they believe in the old adage ” Vote early, vote often.

  22. Charlie

    My wife and I went at about lunch time and were in line literally for 1 hr 15 mins at Bristo. Made the best of it seeing neighbors and chatting. That being said it really was a disaster. I have seen no good explanation for the problem and find it hard to believe that a disparity in the street assignments has not resulted in uneven lines in past elections. While certainly a number of variables that contributed it was forseeable and solutions should have been employed.

  23. John F.

    I’m new to West Hartford. But I’ve voted in every single election since I was 18, I have a background in event management and I have worked the polls on Election Day.

    And Mayor Slifka should know that I’d be happy to serve as Election Day Polling Place Czar. I guarantee a far better voter experience if I’m put in charge.

    Why? Because what I witnessed at City Hall this afternoon was one of the worst run polling places I have witnessed in 20+ years. And though there have been worse situations in other communities, I expected far better from West Hartford.

    We waited at least 40 minutes before submitting ballot. That was starting at 2:45 this afternoon.

    The entrance to the City Hall auditorium polling area was through a set of double doors.

    To start the ‘lines’ were virtually undefined – starting with the poor signage. And I mean POOR – handwritten in ballpoint pen, illegible from 5 feet away to anyone without 20/10 vision and unfamiliar with deciphering chicken-scratch.

    Worse, the ONLY posted signage was INSIDE the auditorium – the problem was that the lines were forming OUTSIDE the auditorium. As a result, a substantial number of voters were unwittingly unnecessarily waiting in the wrong line.

    A couple of clearly posted signs OUTSIDE the doors to the auditorium could have alleviated this issue.

    Comically, there were about a dozen orange traffic cones inside the auditorium with no discernible purpose.

    Frustrated by the unaddressed confusion, I was compelled into civic duty as we sluggishly advanced in the line, informing those behind us which line they should be in. WHY wasn’t there a poll worker or a City Employee (OR a BOY SCOUT) there to handle that very simple task?

    Or better yet why couldn’t some simple concise signage have been posted to eliminate any possible confusion?

    The traffic cones could have easily been (SHOULD HAVE BEEN) used to delineate two lines (A-Farmington & Farnham-Z) – with signage OUTSIDE the double doors to alleviate the confusion.

    Exacerbating all of this was the following:

    – Just ONE person checking addresses in each of the two lines – but two or three people distributing ballots. (No, seriously).

    – Ballots were distributed WITHOUT manilla folders. (A courtesy, but never-the-less one that many less affluent communities provide for their voters).

    – ONE DIEBOLD MACHINE – ONE. I REPEAT ONE DIEBOLD MACHINE – And THAT DIEBOLD machine went down TWICE in those 40+ minutes we were at City Hall – bringing voting to grinding halt each time.

    That second Diebold breakdown occurred just prior to us arriving at the machine. The machine attendant assured us that we could stuff the ballot into the auxiliary opening on the left side of the unit, which meant that our vote would not be machine counted until a polling place worker fed our ballot into the machine after we had left.

    Ironically, the auxiliary opening was OVERSTUFFED and our ballots could not securely be deposited into the opening. At that moment the person I believed to be the moderator arrived to unload the ballots from the auxiliary bin and the machine. After they were done, we could then proceed to submit ballot into the machine and verify the counter uptick.

    OF COURSE, a minimum of TWO DIEBOLD MACHINES at such a busy polling location SHOULD BE STANDARD and would have helped avoid jammed machines, prevented bottlenecks and halts in ballot submission.

    Perplexed by the deployment of just one DIEBOLD machine, I took advantage of alkready being at City Hall and popped in at the Registrar’s Office. I was met by a polite and attentive young man who proceeded to unyieldingly defend the one Diebold machine per polling place regime.

    Stunningly, later today I learned that West Hartford just recently consolidated from 20 polling locations down to just 9 polling locations. And still, just ONE Diebold per polling station?! Please I beg someone accountable in the West Hartford Registrar’s office or City Hall to explain why that makes any sense?!

    My previous place of residence was New London. In the busiest polling location in that City, the lines were clearly marked and they had a staff member to assist people to the correct line; TWO DIEBOLD machines; at least two address checkers and sometimes three or four; manilla envelopes for ballots; and AT WORST – even in the high turnout 2008 election – I waited 15 minutes from entrance to exit.

    I appreciate Mayor Slifka’s frank apology, but from what I saw today, it really did seem that running the polling locations was something of an afterthought on the day-to-day municipal operations priority list.

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