City Hall copes with demand for extra ballots

Compared to Monday, when lines stretched out into the hallway and down the stairs as more than 360 people waited to register to vote, City Hall seemed quiet this Election Day — except in the office of the registrar of voters, where the phones were ringing nonstop.

Turnout at New Haven’s 35 polling places Tuesday was heavy, but voting went smoothly, officials in the registrar’s office said. While members of the office scurried to respond to a steady torrent of calls from voters and poll workers, the day passed without any major glitches.

Most of the calls from polling stations had to do with unaffiliated voters unable to participate in a party primary, said Rae Tramontano, the Republican registrar. Connecticut law requires state residents to register with a party in order to vote in the primaries, and voters must register with the party of their choice at least three months in advance. So for registered independents showing up at the polls Tuesday, it was too late.

“People say, ‘I’ve voted for Democrats all my life, so why not now?’ ” said Sharon Ferrucci, the Democratic registrar. Behind her, one of the five phone operators confirmed that a caller was unaffiliated.

The problem is most common among new residents who recently moved from states where all residents are allowed to vote in primaries or who had not updated their registration with their New Haven address, Ferrucci said.

Tramontano estimated that 150 to 200 voters were turned away for lack of party affiliation .

Despite those voters who were turned away, early indicators suggested high voter turnout, Tramontano said. All 35 polling places requested additional ballots at least once — meaning the city issued more ballots than in the last federal general election, in 2006.

“This is a hot election,” Tramontano said.

Ferrucci said she does not think there has been such high turnout in a Democratic primary in New Haven since Jesse Jackson ran for president in the 1980s.

Yesterday’s voting featured the introduction of new optical scanned voting machines, which were used for the first time in a major primary. Registrars said there were no problems reported with the machines, which scan ovals filled in by voters.

In anticipation of a busy day, the office hired and trained part-time help to supplement the regular staff.

In addition to those who showed up at the polls Tuesday, 1,008 Connecticut residents requested absentee ballots; 706 were mailed back.

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