[Updated, Nov. 8, 2016, 6:05 p.m.]
By Ronni Newton
A steady stream of voters continued to arrive at polling places throughout West Hartford on Election Day 2016, and the consensus seemed to be that all was running smoothly despite high turnout.
“There were lines in the morning but that’s to be expected. The process is going very smoothly,” Republican Registrar of Voters Beth Kyle said early Tuesday evening.
According to Kyle, total turnout reported by the polling places in West Hartford as of 5:30 p.m. was 25,677. In addition, Town Clerk Essie Labrot reported that 4,210 absentee ballots had been returned, and the combined total of those two figures indicates that nearly 70 percent of registered voters in West Hartford had cast a ballot even before the evening rush really got underway.
Figures were not yet available for Election Day registration, which was taking place at Town Hall.
“This has been the smoothest I remember,” said Labrot, who is a veteran of two previous presidential elections.
Labrot said that a total of 4,661 absentee ballots had been issued, and the 4,210 that had been returned represented 90 percent, which is a typical rate. “Some people FedExed and overnighted their ballots,” Labrot said, including 20 that arrived Tuesday by FedEx. “People want to know that their vote is here and counted.”
Those absentee ballots were already being counted Tuesday afternoon, and Labrot said she was still waiting for several emergency ballots provided to those who have been recently hospitalized.
“It was busy in the morning but steady from 11 a.m. on,” said Town Council Minority Leader Denise Hall, stationed outside Braeburn Elementary School late Tuesday afternoon. She said she was thankful for the good job that the registrars and town clerk had done this year, but added that all will be happy when the days is over.
“I’m so thankful for the weather,” said Michalee Merritt, wife of Republican State Senate candidate Mark Merritt, who was holding a sign for her husband outside Braeburn.
Derek Slap, the Democratic candidate for State Representative in the 19th district was also standing outside at Braeburn. He said he was touched that his 10-year-old and 12-year-old daughters had been up and working with him since 5 a.m. “They refused to take a break … It’s a family affair and everybody sacrifices, on both sides,” he said.
Mary Kate Coburn posed for a photo with her mom, Peggy Coburn, in the lobby of Braeburn. Mary Kate just turned 18 and was voting for the first time. “Absolutely!” was her answer to the question of whether or not she was excited to cast her ballot.
Braeburn tends to see very high voter turnout, and moderator Kaye Straw said that between 6-7 a.m. about 600 people had voted. Twenty of them were waiting in line at 5:30 a.m., but the line moved quickly and “nothing crazy” happened during the day, Straw said.
Having nine checkers this year, with each responsible for a book of 500-600 names, really made the process run smoothly, she said.
“People at this polling place tend to come early,” said Straw.
Many West Hartford residents flocked to the polls as they opened Tuesday morning – some even arriving in advance of the 6 a.m. opening – and early on there were long lines reported at many of the town’s polling places.
Resident Jon Gibson estimated that there were 150 people in line at Braeburn Elementary School (district no. 8) right as the polls opened, and he was happy to be number 50. The parking lot was crowded, too, but Gibson was still in and out in about 10 minutes, he said.
West Hartford Town Council member Beth Kerrigan was out long before the polls were open. At 5:25 a.m. she posted a photo on Facebook of voters lining up at the polling place at West Hartford Town Hall, district no. 3.
“It’s going well but it was really, really busy this morning,” Democratic Registrar of Voters Beth Sweeney said just after 1 p.m., when the pace of voting had slowed significantly.
Casey Rousseau, the moderator at the Elmwood Community Center, the polling place for district no. 4 in West Hartford, said that the ballot box had gotten jammed a few times early on because of the fast pace of voters, but they were able to quickly clear the jams.
“It was quite busy in the first hour,” Rousseau said, but he was very pleased to have someone directing traffic in the parking lot and had not received any complaints. Staffing of the polling place was double the usual number of people, and Rousseau was thankful for that as well.
At 11 a.m., the ballot box had to be emptied because it was filled with 1,700 ballots, and Rousseau was anticipating that it would need to be emptied again.
Just before noon the polling place at Conard High School, West Hartford’s district no. 6, was completely line-free.
“It’s been solid since 6 o’clock, but the line cleared by 6:20 a.m.,” moderator Kelley Fournier said.
“We’ve had no issues with the ballot box or with any voters,” Fournier said, although early on there had been confusion about the voting location at Conard which has moved from the small gym to the cafeteria.
Sweeney said that initially the parking lot on Beechwood wasn’t clearly blocked off, and some voters were confused. Once that was remedied, with clear signage directing voters to park in the lot on Berkshire Road, things were running smoothly.
There were some reports early in the day about an inoperable tabulator at Bristow Middle School, West Hartford district no. 2, but Sweeney said that the tabulator wasn’t broken. “The box that the tabulator sits on was damaged in the move so the ballots weren’t going in properly. We swapped it out,” she said.
Sweeney said that Election Day registration at Town Hall was proceeding without incident.
Turnout estimates were not yet available, Sweeney said, but she was hoping to have figures later in the afternoon.
Many area businesses are offering special deals to customers wearing their “I Voted” stickers, and there are other types of “elections” taking place on Tuesday as well.
At Goldberg’s Gourmet in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square, guests have the opportunity to vote for candidate-inspired sandwiches.
Candidates are: The Trump (extra Taylor Ham, bacon, egg, American cheese, potato fritte on onion) and The Hillary (fresh mozzarella, basil, tomato, capicolla, and egg, hot-pressed). The sandwich with the most orders when polls close at 8 p.m. “wins,” and there’s an ongoing social media campaign on Facebook with a Goldberg’s gift card as the prize.
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