106 of New Haven’s Ward 1 residents cast a ballot in Tuesday’s Democratic primary — 18 for incumbent Mayor Toni Harp and 88 for challenger Justin Elicker, who would go on to win the election. But several Yale students who thought they had registered were turned away at the polls and told that the city had no record of their registration.
After hundreds of Yale students and New Haven residents waited hours to register on election day last year, the University and the Elm City began a concerted push to encourage earlier registration and to facilitate a smoother voting process. Still, Tuesday’s election — the first since last year’s — faced a different set of challenges when several students who had registered through campus drives did not appear on voter rolls. Ward 1 Alder candidate Eli Sabin’s campaign led voter registration efforts in advance of the primary. His campaign volunteers delivered several dozen registration forms on Tuesday — days after the deadline to submit forms on others’ behalf — rendering some students unable to vote.
“The truth is that small mishaps like this can happen when you’re working with grassroots student volunteers,” Sabin, who ran uncontested, wrote in a statement to the News. “Thankfully, the handful of students who had trouble at the polls will be registered to vote in the general election. I hope that in the future, Yale’s administration will provide more institutional resources to help get students registered to vote when they arrive on campus.”
Sabin also noted that increased University support for voter registration would ensure that student volunteers are not responsible for all engagement efforts.
Unlike last year’s midterm election, same-day registration was not an option in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Registration cards delivered on others’ behalf — including those collected via registration drives — were due on Thursday, Sept. 5. Individuals could register to vote in person until noon on Monday, Sept. 9.
Democratic registrar Shannel Evans communicated these deadlines to University administrators as part of an effort to simplify student voting in the Elm City. According to Vice President of Student Life Burgwell Howard, the University has not coordinated any voter registration efforts on campus this year. The Yale Votes coalition, established last year to increase political engagement and voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, has likewise not held any drives on campus. Member organizations of Yale Votes include the Yale College Democrats, the Yale College Republicans, the Yale College Council and Every Vote Counts. According to Howard, the group is working to fully implement TurboVote, an online tool for voter registration and absentee ballot requests, ahead of the general election.
According to Sabin’s campaign manager Matt Post ‘22, the Ward 1 hopeful’s campaign has registered approximately 200 student voters over the past several weeks. Volunteers have hosted nearly a dozen drives in advance of the Sept. 5 deadline, tabling at events such as the mayoral debate held in Sudler Hall and the extracurricular bazaar.
The News interviewed four students who reported difficulties with their registrations. Three of these students — two of whom registered at the debate on Aug. 30 and one of whom registered at the bazaar on Sept. 1 — attempted to vote on election day but were told that poll workers could not find their records. A fourth student registered at the debate, and upon checking his registration online on Monday, learned that it was never processed. As a result, he did not attempt to vote. To their own knowledge, all four students’ forms were complete and correct.
The Sabin campaign also hosted a drive on Friday, Sept. 6, registering about ten students. Because this drive was after the deadline for submitting registration forms on others’ behalf, none of these students were eligible to vote in the primary unless they registered in person at the Hall of Records on Monday. Sabin told the News that he had informed students who asked about the primary that registering with his campaign after Sept. 5 meant that they could not vote on Sept. 10.
On election day, the Sabin campaign delivered several dozen registration forms to the registrar’s office. This delivery included Friday’s forms as well as some collected prior to Sept. 5. According to Post, a volunteer forgot to empty an envelope from an earlier drive.
In a written statement to the News, Post emphasized that campaign volunteers have been hard at work registering students to vote in New Haven. He acknowledged that “a few pre-deadline forms got mixed up with a pile of post-deadline forms” and stressed the campaign’s commitment to register many more students before November’s general election.
“We see [voter registration] as an essential way for students to become civically engaged in the community outside of the Yale bubble,” Post wrote.
The Registrar of Voters has not yet processed forms delivered on Tuesday, so it is unclear how many students were affected or whether those forms were completed correctly. Ward 1 poll workers interviewed by the News on election day estimated that they turned away ten or more voters — only three of whom are confirmed to have attempted to register with the Sabin campaign — because of registration issues, amounting to about ten percent of voter turnout in the majority-Yale ward.
The New Haven Registrar of Voters is located at 200 Orange St.
Mackenzie Hawkins | firstname.lastname@example.org