3 PM UPDATE:
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.
9 AM REPORT:
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.
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.