Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

The City Services and Environmental Policy Committee left their Zoom election workshop Thursday night the same way they entered it: with many unanswered questions.

The committee, chaired by Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa, had scheduled the workshop with City Clerk Michael Smart, Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans, and Christine Bartlett-Josie, an election support officer from the Secretary of State’s office. The workshop intended to address concerns ahead of the Nov. 3rd election. These included incidents of residents receiving the wrong ballot in the mail, not receiving their ballots at all or being unsure how to handle in-person voting due to COVID-19 health concerns. Bartlett-Josie told the committee that New Haven was generating the most voting complaints out of anywhere in the state. 

But at the beginning of the meeting, Festa announced that representatives from both the city clerk and registrar of voters had declined to appear. Smart and Evans did not respond to a request for comment.

“I’m disappointed that neither the registrar of voters nor the city clerk is on, because they should be on,” Bartlett-Josie said. “And I don’t like to hear that the city is number one in complaints.”

The committee held a similar workshop over Zoom at the beginning of the month, which both the city clerk and registrar of voters also declined to attend, even as the volume of absentee ballots continues to increase. According to data from the city clerk’s office, approximately 13,500 absentee ballot requests have been filed. Roughly 10,000 of those have been processed and sent to voters. The office also reported that 2,000 of the ballots have been filled out and returned. 

The city clerk and registrar of voters did submit answers to a select few questions in writing, which Festa read aloud during the workshop. Smart emphasized his office’s commitment to addressing all ballot-related errors within 24 hours, and also expressed the need for more volunteers to handle the historic influx of ballots. He also noted the Central Voter Registration System (CVR), which allows voters to track their ballots, was up to date as of Thursday.

“The city clerk’s office is working very hard,” Festa said. “It’s easy to place blame, but we all have to come together right now. We are here to assist and to help as much as possible. This is just a very challenging and very different election.”

Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth said she had hoped to hear from these offices and wanted to open a dialogue with them to field various questions from her constituents. These included what happens if a voter does not notice they’ve received the wrong ballot and whether the offices can make more information available on their websites.

In his written answers, Smart said voters had until the end of the business day on Nov. 2nd to submit an absentee ballot request. Roth expressed concern over this deadline, and said she would like clarification on how a voter could request an absentee ballot the day before the election and still be able to vote in time. 

“I find it concerning that the city clerk and registrar of voters are not here for the second time in a row,” Roth said at the committee’s meeting on Thursday. “This is an incredibly important election with a really complicated process. I know they are busy, but this is part of their responsibility to share this information.” 

Ward 21 Alder Steve Winter brought up questions regarding Election Day Registration (EDR) and said that although the registrar of voters had submitted written responses, a lot remains unclear about their specific plans to handle registrations on Election Day. The office has promised to set up 20 computers at City Hall, which is still the city’s only EDR location.

Festa noted that, since Yale sophomores are not on campus this fall, there would likely be smaller lines at the EDR tables — most same-day registration requests come from Yale students, she said.
However, Winter is still looking to have a dialogue to clarify the plan. 

“We need to have a more in-depth conversation about [EDR],” Winter said. “We all share a desire for this election to run as smoothly as possible. I agree with Alder Roth that we need to talk through these issues in more detail.”

As Election Day nears, those present at the meeting all emphasized the need for clarity and teamwork going into unprecedented voting conditions. Festa in particular encouraged all voters struggling to find voting information to contact the Board of Alders directly. She said it was most important to make sure that all residents have the opportunity to participate in this pivotal election.

“This is a very challenging election,” Festa said. “We need to be treating people as though it is the first time they are voting, because for many people, it is the first time they are voting absentee. I cannot stress enough that we are here to help in any capacity whatsoever.”

For questions or concerns regarding ballots for the upcoming election, contact the city clerk’s office phone line at (203) 946-8349 or Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa at (203) 676-1067.

Thomas Birmingham | thomas.birmingham@yale.edu