Two years ago, a multi-hour line snaking around City Hall had caused a bottleneck in same-day voter registration, leaving hundreds of New Haven voters unable to cast their ballots before the 8 p.m. registration deadline during the 2018 midterm elections.
Even before polls opened throughout the city on Tuesday morning, discrepancies between polling site information circulated by the state and information circulated by the city have already generated confusion and concern.
Voters in New Haven should refer to the state of Connecticut’s online voter registration look-up in order to find out where to cast their ballots, rather than using the city’s polling places spreadsheet posted on the city of New Haven’s elections page and originally used to guide students on the Yale Votes website. City officials have since called the spreadsheet “misleading.”
New Haven’s Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans and Republican Registrar of Voters Marlene Napolitano did not respond to requests for comment over multiple days in regard to voting concerns. Yale Votes has since updated its information to reflect state polling locations for each residential college. Students in Timothy Dwight and Silliman colleges are among those who likely received misleading information from the New Haven city spreadsheet.
“This error underscores how important it is that every voter (regardless of where they are voting) double check their information (including registration status and polling location) with their Secretary of State’s portal before heading to the polls tomorrow,” wrote Yale Votes representative Jonathan Schwartz ’21 in a statement to the News.
After checking the Yale Votes website, Kaley Pillinger ’21 discovered that her listed polling location was Wexler-Grant School at 55 Foote St.— a site she visited last year to vote in New Haven’s local elections, according to a Twitter thread she posted on Monday evening.
The familiar location raised red flags for Pillinger, who has voted in New Haven twice prior. That’s because in New Haven, many constituents are sent to vote in different locations in odd- and even-numbered years, since state representative and senate districts are not exactly aligned with ward boundaries. Since 2020 is an even-numbered year when state positions are contested, Pillinger recognized that the polling location originally listed by Yale Votes and the city of New Haven could be erroneous. Less than eight hours before polls opened, the Yale Votes website had still been drawing from the city’s published list and not the state’s.
The polling site posted on Pillinger’s state voter look-up — administered by the Office of the Secretary of the State — confirmed her suspicions: According to the information provided by the state, she is supposed to be voting at the New Haven Free Public Library’s main branch at 133 Elm St., roughly a one-mile walk from Wexler-Grant.
While attempting to vote at an incorrect site will not result in a penalty for voters, having to relocate could introduce additional delays that may deter or prevent voters from casting their ballots before 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
The discrepancies set off a late-night scramble as state and local election officials and Yale Votes coalition members tried to figure out what election source to trust.
For upperclassmen and community members who have voted in New Haven in prior elections, these uncertainties are frustratingly familiar: Delays caused hundreds to be turned away from the polls in 2014 and 2016, and New Haven has also in recent years clocked dead last in the state for counting ballots on election night.
“This is yet another example of the widespread misinformation around voting that makes the simple act of casting your vote anything but straightforward,” Yale College Democrats president Molly Shapiro ’21 told the News. “We are frustrated by the inconsistency and hope to see far greater clarity going forward.”
According to an update from Yale Votes and New Haven voting representatives on Tuesday morning, students who registered on Old Campus, Silliman, TD, Hopper, Berkeley, Trumbull, JE, Branford and Saybrook should report to the NHFPL. Students who registered in Ezra Stiles, Morse, Pierson, Davenport, Franklin and Murray should vote at Wexler-Grant.
Later in the morning, however, Yale Votes began recommending that each student checks their polling location address on the Secretary of State’s website.
According to Yale Votes voting engagement coordinator Henry Smith ’22, “the miscommunication came down to a mismatch between ward boundaries and senate districts.”
The New Haven Register also published a list of polling locations based on the city’s spreadsheet in an article published on Sunday. Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth attempted to contact the Register to let them know that the information was misleading, but she received no response from the paper. The Register declined to comment on the accuracy of the article.
Multiple alders expressed confusion and exasperation over the contents of the spreadsheet as they prepared to help constituents on Election Day. Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22 clarified that some residents of Ward 1 will vote at the main branch of the NHFPL, and others will vote at the Hall of Records. The city’s spreadsheet, however, lists only the public library as a polling place for Ward 1 residents. Sabin urged voters in his ward, particularly Yale students, to refer to the state system for accurate information.
“This is very frustrating,” Sabin said.
According to Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison, Wexler-Grant is normally the only polling place for residents of her ward in odd-numbered years, but in federal and state election years such as 2020, some Ward 22 residents vote at the public library — just as voters from Sabin’s ward will.
She said this change was not reflected in the Registrar of Voters’ information.
“So I’m in Ward 22, and [this election] I vote at Wexler-Grant,” Morrison said. “Someone else, like a student in TD for example, because they have a different state representative, would have a different polling location just from being on the other side of the street.”
The city circulated a spreadsheet similar to the 2020 polling locations list for the 2019 municipal elections. At first glance, the 2019 list appears to be a copy of the 2020 version. The list of polling locations is the same, and both documents are numbered one through 30. However, the 2019 document is labeled “Wards” and the 2020 document is labeled “Districts.” According to Roth, many voters would likely assume the 2020 document is based on the same ward boundaries as 2019, which could lead to voters ending up in the wrong place come Election Day.
“I just think it’s a super confusing chart,” Roth said. “Hopefully people are alerted soon enough so they don’t wait in a long line before finding out [they are in the wrong location].”
Aaron Goode ’04, co-founder of New Haven Votes, said he was surprised that, given the mishaps of the 2018 midterm elections, these problems had not yet been resolved by the city. His organization also tweeted on the eve of the election, informing residents not to refer to the city spreadsheet at all on Election Day.
He urged the city to make signage available at all polling places encouraging voters to check the state look-up system to confirm they are in the right place. He also said that the polling location information sent in postcards from the Registrars of Voters to residents should be correct. But similar to the alders, Goode expressed irritation at having to repeatedly handle these issues year after year.
“It’s about communicating with people,” Goode said. “And unfortunately it seems as though we have a lot of communication lapses in our voting process.”
According to the Connecticut Secretary of State’s office, there were 205,609 votes cast in New Haven County in the 2016 presidential election.
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Update, Nov. 3 9:30 am: This story has been updated to reflect a correction made by Yale Votes.
Update, Nov. 3 11:27 am: This story has been updated to reflect a revision made by Yale Votes about where students should check their appropriate polling address.
Clarification, Nov. 3: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect how the News learned about Pillinger’s polling location experience.