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Democrats Sweep West Hartford in 2020 Election, Turnout Close to 86% [Updated]

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Democratic candidates on the ticket in West Hartford won State Senate and all three State House seats as well as all other state and national positions. [Updated, Nov. 5]

By Ronni Newton

Roughly half of West Hartford’s voters utilized absentee ballots to cast their votes in the November 2020 election, and with a herculean effort led by the Registrars of Voters, unofficial results were released late Tuesday night, cementing a sweep locally for the Democratic Party from the top to the bottom of the ballot.

In an election unlike any that has previously taken place in the state, there were more than 18,000 absentee ballots cast in West Hartford, and 14,943 were included in the results reported late Tuesday night.

Absentee ballots continued to be counted throughout the day on Wednesday and Thursday, and compiled by the head moderator, and while final results will not be certified by Town Clerk Essie Labrot until Friday, Republican Registrar of Voters Beth Kyle provided We-Ha.com with some unofficial numbers on Thursday evening.

According to Kyle, West Hartford has 42,805 registered voters – including 373 who utilized Election Day Registration to cast their ballot.

A total of 36,804 votes were cast in West Hartford, Kyle said.

There were 18,428 West Hartford voters utilized absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election, representing slightly more than half of all who voted.

Unofficial voter turnout in West Hartford was 85.98%, Kyle said.

According to Labrot, the only time in recent years when turnout has been greater was in 1988, when turnout was 86.6%.

According to Kyle, a very small number – just two-thirds of one percent of the absentee ballots returned – were rejected, “mostly for not following the instructions with regard to the inner envelope,” she said.

Reasons for rejection included failure to insert the ballot in the inner envelope, failure to sign the inner envelope, failure to include the inner envelope when returning the ballot, and returning the envelope without including the ballot at all.

A final spreadsheet indicating turnout by polling place will be provided once the tallies have been certified and reported to the Secretary of State.

Results of races [most up-to-date tallies included]

Two of West Hartford’s general assembly seats were uncontested – and as soon as the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tammy Exum was declared the victor in the 19th State House District and Kate Farrar was declared the winner in the 20th State House District.

Tammy Exum. Submitted photo (we-ha.com file photo)

Exum took office following a special election in April 2019 and will now serve her first full term.

“I’m so excited to be serving alongside Jillian [Gilchrest] and Kate [Farrar] – three women serving West Hartford,” Exum told We-Ha.com.

She said she is so grateful to be re-elected. “I will never take for granted the trust placed in me by the residents of the 19th District to be their advocate at the State Capitol,” Exum said.“We face difficult times ahead as a state and as a country, but I am confident that our best days are ahead of us if we work together. Stay safe.”

Kate Farrar declared her candidacy for the 20th District seat being vacated by Joe Verrengia back in January, and defeated Democratic challenger Sherry Haller in an August primary. She ultimately did not face a challenger in the November election after Republican Al Cortes relocated out of the district over the summer.

Kate Farrar. Courtesy photo

“I’m just so grateful to have the trust of our community and our voters,” Farrar told We-Ha.com.

“I’m ready to get to work as a champion for southern West Hartford,” Farrar said. “Voters clearly want progressive action on healthcare, education and fiscal policies that will build a fair economy out of this crisis.”

In the 18th District, incumbent Jillian Gilchrest won her second term, defeating Republican Rick Bush.

Gilchrest told We-Ha.com that she hopes to continue as a member of the Appropriations Committee, and looks forward to continuing her work on legislation regarding sexual violence and vaccination.

Jillian Gilchrest. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

“I am honored to be elected to a second term as state representative for the 18th District,” Gilchrest said.

“These are challenging times, in our state and in our country. I recognize the responsibility that West Hartford residents have entrusted to me and I thank them for their confidence. I look forward to working hard for the people of West Hartford at our State Capitol,” she added.

“Before the campaign started I knew it would be an uphill battle,” Bush said during a We-Ha.com election night program. He said he had hoped to get at least 35% of the in-person vote, and while Gilchrest received more than 74% of the overall vote, Bush was pleased to received more than 38% of the votes from the polling places.

As of Nov. 5, 2020

“Really, I couldn’t be more pleased with our campaign. We ran a clean campaign, we didn’t go negative,” Bush said.

Derek Slap garnered 72.17% of the votes in West Hartford, and won re-election in the 5th State Senate District with 65.07% of the vote.

As of Nov. 5, 2020

Slap, who lives in West Hartford and previously represented the 19th district that includes portions of West Hartford, Avon, and Farmington, first won election to the State Senate’s 5th District in a Feb. 26, 2019, special election to fill the seat left vacant when Beth Bye was named commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood.

Derek Slap (we-ha.com file photo)

The 5th State Senate District includes all of West Hartford and Burlington, part of Farmington, and a sliver of Bloomfield, said Slap said he’s looking forward to serving all of his constituents in his first full term – whether or not they supported him in the election.

I am incredibly grateful to be re-elected to the State Senate,” Slap said, expressing his thanks to his supporters.

“Serving during this challenging time comes with great responsibility,” Slap said. “The unemployed, the small business owner, the front line worker, the nursing home resident … they need an advocate now more than ever. I will keep working hard for every resident of the 5th Senate District. My phone is charged, my email is on, and I’m ready to help.

He told We-Ha.com that as he looks ahead to the next session, he is hopeful for the passage of an age discrimination bill which has been under consideration.

When asked how the legislature will manage meeting while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Slap said, “It’s the people’s building, and the people’s business,” and keeping the building closed is problematic.

This election cycle, our Democratic candidates and volunteers worked tirelessly across West Hartford,” Democratic Town Committee Chair John Bailey said. “Based on the available results, residents clearly believe that our Democratic candidates are best suited to represent their values in Hartford. We extend our congratulations to the apparent winners, state Sen. Derek Slap, state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, state Rep. Tammy Exum, and state Rep.-elect Kate Farrar.”

“While we await the full results of the presidential election,” Democratic Town Committee Vice-Chair Tiffani McGinnis added, “it is wonderful to see that West Hartford voters overwhelmingly chose Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.” 

West Hartford also elected Registrars of Voters Tuesday night, with incumbent Republican Beth Kyle winning re-election and Beth Sweeney, who has been an assistant registrar, elected as the Democratic registrar.

Statewide and national races were also wins for the Democrats in West Hartford. The team of Joe Biden/Kamala Harris received 75.21% of the vote in West Hartford, with 23.28% of the vote going to Donald Trump/Mike Pence according to unofficial results posted on the Secretary of State’s website.

As of 8:45 p.m. Thursday, the Secretary of State’s website indicates that incumbent U.S. Rep. John Larson received a total of 211,403 votes, some of which were cast on the Working Families party line on the ballot. He was re-elected to the 1st Congressional District with 63% of the vote, while Mary Fay of west Hartford received 35.72% of the vote.

As of Nov. 5, 2020

Green Party candidate Tom McCormick, also of West Hartford, received 1.29% according to the Secretary of State’s website.

“Thank you to the people of Connecticut’s First District for sending me back to Washington to represent you. I am committed now more than ever given this pandemic and the plight of so many citizens, many who are unemployed and struggling, to fight as hard as I can on their behalf to address this pandemic and put people back to work,” Larson said in a statement just after 1 a.m. Wednesday.

“I would like to thank everyone who volunteered and contributed to our campaign to make this win a reality. Now it’s time to get back to work!”

Fay said she was pleased with the feedback she had received in exit polls.

She provided the following statement to We-Ha.com on Thursday morning: “While the outcome wasn’t victory, I’m proud of my campaign and my team. We worked extremely hard, touched many voters, and focused on the issues. It’s extremely difficult to overcome the gerrymandering of the first district, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 3-1. I believe that is a problem that should be focused on. I wish congressman Larson the best.”

In an interview with We-Ha.com Tuesday afternoon, in between visits to polling places, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he was pleased to see the heavy turnout, both in Connecticut as well as the rest of the country.

From left: John Lyons, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Ronni Newton participate in a Facebook Live interview Tuesday. Screenshot

“Most heartening is to see the number of  voters who brought their children,” Blumenthal said.

During the interview, Blumenthal also hinted that an announcement might be coming soon regarding his plans to seek re-election in 2022.

Mayor Shari Cantor said Tuesday evening how proud she was of Connecticut residents for the way the election process was handled. In West Hartford, there were no incidents at the polls other than one person who arrived at the polls wearing clothing emblazoned with a candidate’s name and had to be asked to leave.

Having a full team of West Hartford Democrats as the legislative delegation is very helpful to the town, Cantor said. “It’s so helpful to have those low walls and easy access,” she said.

Cantor added that she is proud to have the trio of Gilchrest, Exum, and Farrar, as well as Slap, as colleagues and friends.

We-Ha.com hosted a special election night Facebook Live program Tuesday night from 8-10 p.m. that featured Slap, Gilchrest, Exum, Farrar, Fay, Bush, Blumenthal, Cantor, Bailey, and other guests. The video of that program can be seen in its entirety below.

More information about the voting process, including interviews with voters about why they wanted to vote in person and the experience of voting during a pandemic, can be found in the West Hartford Community Interactive YouTube video below.

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