Two Elm City groups, the Downtown Wooster Square Community Management Team and the New Haven Votes Coalition, teamed up Thursday evening to hold a citizens’ forum about the Nov. 8 election.
The meeting was attended by roughly 20 Elm City residents including Tyisha Walker, president of the Board of Alders and a representative from the secretary of state’s office. At the forum, New Haven voters shared their experiences at the polls and gave suggestions for improvement.
The movement to improve the voting process began with a letter to the BOA from the Downtown Wooster Square organization calling on the board to hold a hearing on the voting process. The neighborhood group cited examples of issues their members experienced in the voting process, according to the letter. It also called long wait lines at 200 Orange St. “a result of abysmal planning” and the poll monitor for that site overslept as well. The letter added that there were long lines “while many poll workers stood around eating bagels and not assisting.”
In response to this letter, the BOA has agreed to hold a hearing, but the date of the hearing has not yet been determined. Thursday evening’s event was an initial forum.
Common grievances included long wait lines at polling stations, a shortage of markers, confusion about which polling sites to vote at and the turning away of about 50 voters at registration at the end of the day. One women recalled seeing many discouraged voters leaving because of long wait times, including to go to a job interview.
Aaron Goode, who works with the New Haven Votes Coalition, said difficulties voters faced was “unintentional voter suppression.”
Two polling sites in particular, 200 Orange St. and Wilbur Cross High School, were the target of complaints because they had remarkably high voter turnout.
The Wilbur Cross polling site, according to Goode, has always been high. But the voter turnout at the Orange Street site was a surprise that Goode believes is because of a recent influx of downtown residents.
In response, poll workers divided the district into two lines: one with students and the other with most other voters. But the line that Yale students were divided into was shorter, causing complaints from voters.
Each voting district has a roughly equal number residents. Still, voter turnout among voting districts varied greatly, and some polling sites had more voters than others as a result.
Each voting district is allotted the same number of poll workers and voting booths. Speakers at the Thursday forum suggested having more workers and voting booths at high-turnout sites to deal with long lines.
“We should look at how we are deploying our resources and see if we are deploying them in the most efficient way, based on historic voting turnout in the city,” Goode said.
Early voting laws were also discussed as a possible solution to decrease voter lines on Election Day — a measure that Democratic state Rep. Roland Lamar of New Haven has been working on. The measure failed marginally on a statewide 2014 ballot initiative, though New Haven overwhelmingly approved it.
Ward 6 Alder Dolores Colon ’91 pointed out that the clerk’s office had extended hours leading up to the election in order for people to register. She suggested that the issue could have been avoided if more people knew about the extended hours.
Communication and signage were also common themes. Residents suggested posting signs outside polling sites with what the ballots looked like, wait times and maps of the voting districts. City transportation to sites was also suggested, as lack of transportation could be an obstacle to lower income voters.
A source of confusion for voters was also which polling sites to go to. Some were unaware that when they changed addresses, they also had to change registration and would have different polling sites. This was particularly a problem for Yale students, as many change dorms.
The fact that voting districts in national elections are not by ward, as they are for municipal elections, also posed a problem: Voters may have different polling sites in different election years.
But Walker saw these different voting districts as a positive. She said people were too used to their municipal wards, so the change in polling sites for national election is “the perfect opportunity to get to know your other neighbors.”
Despite these negative experiences, other people found the voting experience pleasant. At the Edgewood School in Westville, there was a bake sale and massage therapist outside the polling center.