Voters: 'Nothing but confusion' on Election Day

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Wed., Nov. 14, 2012
(L-r) Registrars of Voters Timothy Becker and Francis Maffe reported to the Board of Directors on some of the problems they faced during Election Day. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.
(L-r) Registrars of Voters Timothy Becker and Francis Maffe reported to the Board of Directors on some of the problems they faced during Election Day. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

“In 55 years of voting, I never had to stand in line like I did earlier this month,” said Main Street resident Ken Burkamp to the Board of Directors at their Tuesday, Nov. 13, regular meeting. “There was no uniformity, there was nothing but confusion.” His words echoed a concern found throughout Manchester: residents were bewildered when they tried to vote on Election Day. And they don't want it to happen again.

Registrars of Voters Timothy Becker and Francis Maffe, the Republican and Democrat registrars, respectively, reported to the board about the factors that caused some of the Nov. 6 confusion, attributing it primarily to higher than expected turn-out and recent redistricting.

With expectations of 76 to 78 percent voter turnout, polling places were inundated by 83.7-percent turnouts. The elimination of Nathan Hale and Washington polling places from the 10 districts put added stress on the remaining eight, particularly the high school, Waddell and Highland Park. Despite several mailed announcements alerting voters of polling location changes, many still went to the wrong location, creating frustration.

Another problematic factor was the “dual endorsement” of some candidates. “The Republican for Senate was also endorsed by the Independent Party; the Democrat for Senate was also endorsed by the Working Families Party,” Maffe said. “It confused the voters.” Some voters thought they could vote for two people, Maffe said, which “spoiled the ballots,” leading to timely recounting on the part of polling workers. “We had 632 spoiled ballots - more than we've ever had,” he said. “This is something the state has to address in terms of educating the voters.”

Hurricane Sandy also posed an obstacle. Because of the storm, the Oct. 30 due date for late registration was changed to Nov. 1, putting the registrars behind. The town clerk, also, was overwhelmed by a large amount of absentee ballots.

On top of it all, an effort meant to reduce long waits in line proved ineffective for reasons beyond the registrars' control. They had split ballot books in half, so that residents on streets beginning with A to K waited in one line, and those from L to Z waited in another. “In the morning, we saw that the A to K people voted. At night, I don't know why, the L to Z people voted,” Maffe said.

They had some suggestions for improving the process in the future, including setting up three checkers instead of two at high-volume districts, improving signage at the beginning of lines directing people to the right checker, hiring a greeter to answer questions, and opening hallways in some polling places – particularly Waddell – so that people in line can wait indoors instead of out the door. “Worst-case scenario: we redraw the lines for districts 5 and 6, which seem to be the biggest problem,” said Maffe.

Becker wanted to implement these changes for the next municipal election to test its effectiveness, so that they would be better prepared for the gubernatorial election in two years.

It was also noted that some of the difficulties at polling places could have been reduced with more manpower, and Maffe was not shy about voicing his views on the subject. “You people keep cutting our budget,” he told the board, in reference to 20 percent cuts made after redistricting.

“I think a greeter is a great idea,” said Mayor Leo Diana. “I received one call from someone who was so upset about voting at the high school that they said they weren't going to vote for me – and I wasn't even on the ballot.”

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