MILLER: Disenfranchised in Davenport

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Photo by Annelisa Leinbach.

248 Davenport is not a real address. But when students register to vote using Davenport College as their address, the New Haven Registrar of Voters automatically records it as 248 Davenport.

If it had to show the location of 248 Davenport on a map, the Registrar would point to the empty space in the very middle of York Street, in between the physical Davenport College and Branford College. Approximately 50 current Davenport students, including me, are listed as residing there. In other words, 50 of your classmates technically do not even live in a building, as far as the city is concerned.

York Street also happens to be the boundary between the CT-10 and CT-11 Senate Districts. This is a problem because 248 Davenport — again, not a real building — is listed in the CT-11 Senate district, while the physical Davenport college, 248 York Street, is in the CT-10 Senate district.

This confusion came to light on Monday, when I tried to check my polling place for the special election for the CT-10 Senate seat. I called the Registrar of Voters, hoping to get some clarification. What I went through was an example of government bureaucracy and ineptitude at its most frustrating. Despite my repeated explanations that 248 Davenport and 248 York are the same building and that there must have been some error in placing them in two separate districts, I was finally informed that I would not be able to vote on Tuesday. I had been disenfranchised.

Let’s pull back to look at how we got here. In my experience registering voters in New Haven, the official position from the Registrar has been: Use your dorm name, not the physical address. Yale’s only memo on student voting in New Haven, tucked away in the outdated Class of 2017 “Preparing Your Move” website, repeats this suggestion. Students who listed their dorm address instead of the dorm name have had mixed results. When I worked as a Ward 1 poll worker in 2012, I met a group of freshmen that had waited in line for an hour. I had to redirect them to vote at the Hall of Records, instead of the Library, because they had registered at their physical Old Campus address.

The key point here is listing the address or name of your dorm shouldn’t matter. They are, after all, the same building.

This may seem like an obvious point. But on Tuesday, undeterred by the Registrar of Voter’s original answer, I reached out to the Yale Office of New Haven and State Affairs, Yale College Dean’s Office, Davenport Master’s Office, City Clerk’s Office, Alder Sarah Eidelson and the Registrar of Voters again. I spent over three hours on the phone trying to find anyone that both believed that I lived in the tenth district and could actually do something about it.

The process was demoralizing and humiliating. A minor clerical error was robbing me of my most basic political right. I received no institutional support on this issue from the Yale administration, which is disheartening because many other students were disenfranchised as well.

Thankfully, on my third phone call with the Registrar, a kind employee called the poll moderator at the Wexler-Grant School. They agreed to change my address on the spot. I picked up my ballot, voted and received my sticker. I was confused why this was not an option from the beginning, but at least I had exercised my constitutional right at last.

There are a few takeaways from my story. First, the Registrar needs to treat dorm names and physical addresses the same. Second, check your voter registration online and verify the information. Third, if you believe that you should have been able to vote in Tuesday’s election but never received a letter notifying you of your polling place, contact Alder Sarah Eidelson, who has been responsive on this issue and has promised to bring it up with the Registrar. Fourth, the Yale administration and Yale College Council should provide guidance to students on how to register to vote and support students when their rights are being challenged. If Yale wants students to be engaged in New Haven, that includes defending the ability to vote in New Haven.

Luckily, this problem occurred during a low-turnout election, in which not many students exercised their right to vote. But the events of the past two days point to a larger problem. The city and Registrar’s office neglected their responsibility to adequately manage voter information. I urge you to contact your elected representatives now to protect your right to vote.

Rachel Miller is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at rachel.miller@yale.edu .

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