With 100,000 new voters registered in the past six weeks and power restored to all polling places, Connecticut's chief elections official said she hopes other aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy won't keep voters from casting ballots Tuesday.
"The bottom line is Connecticut is ready to vote tomorrow," Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill said Monday during a midmorning news conference in her Capitol office. "We've seen a big surge in interest for this presidential election."
Connecticut has gained 202,000 new voters since January, pulling the total number of active, registered voters to close to 2.1 million. This includes: 872,243 unaffiliated voters, 767,693 Democrats and 430,439 Republicans. The total voter list falls about 5,000 shy of the peak Connecticut hit just before the 2008 presidential election.
Since January, the unaffiliated rolls have grown by 92,592, while Democrats picked up 70,928 voters and Republicans gained 33,067.
"This is good news," Merrill said. "The public is still very clearly interested in this election."
Power restored to polling places
In other good news, power has been returned to all 773 of the state's polling places, but two will be closed nonetheless on Election Day, Merrill reported.
Flooding damage has forced the closure of polling sites at Ocean Beach Park in New London and at the Longfellow School on Ocean Terrace in Bridgeport.
Election officials have ordered the opening of two new polling places: the Harbor School on Montauk Avenue in New London and the Regional Vocational Aquaculture School on St. Stephens Road in Bridgeport.
The secretary also praised local election officials' efforts, particularly after Hurricane Sandy struck one week ago, noting that they registered voters and distributed absentee ballots under difficult circumstances.
"This morning what I'm feeling is mostly thankful, Merrill said. "I hope that all of our efforts here paid off and we'll have a great Election Day."
Turnout in Connecticut ranged between 75 percent and 80 percent during the last few presidential elections, but Merrill said, "I wouldn't be totally surprised (by something less), but I'm hoping for a typical turnout."
Shortly before noon on Monday, the state's two major electric utilities reported just under 35,700 customers left without power, most in westernmost Fairfield County.
Connecticut Light & Power, the state's largest electric utility, reported 24,081 outages, or about 1 percent of its 1.2 million customers.
CL&P not only hit its primary goal of having at least 98 percent of outages corrected by Monday or Tuesday, but it also surpassed its targets for bringing sufficient out-of-state repair crews into Connecticut.
CL&P spokesman Frank Poirot reported Monday that the utility had brought in 3,225 line repair workers and 1,300 tree removal workers from 16 counties and four Canadian provinces.
That contingent complements about 400 line workers on CL&P's regular staff and 300 tree removal contractors from within the state that regularly work with the utility.
United Illuminating, which serves 325,000 customers in 17 communities in south central and southwestern Connecticut, reported 10,613 outages, or about 3 percent of its base, shortly before noon.
But Merrill said she is concerned that even with most power restored, residents might be distracted from voting if they suffered major damage to their homes, or if fallen trees still hinder travel around town.
Poirot, who appeared on WNPR's public affairs program "Where We Live" Monday morning, told host John Dankosky that "the high density of mature trees that have been uprooted" has made it difficult to clear some roads in Greenwich and surrounding towns in western Fairfield County.
Some of the largest trees can weigh 3,000 to 4,000 pounds, he said, adding that it takes considerable time to remove them from streets and roads.
Merrill also announced Monday that the state will again operate both a hotline and an email address to receive reports of any problems or irregularities at the polls. Individuals can report problems by calling 1-866-733-2463 or by emailing email@example.com.
"We will have zero tolerance in Connecticut for either voter fraud or voter intimidation," she said.
Merrill said that her office would be launching a cooperative program this Election Day with approximately 100 volunteers from the Connecticut Bar Association. These volunteers, who have received training in elections law from the secretary's office, would be empowered to be the office's "eyes and ears," Merrill said.
If municipal officials request guidance or other advice from the secretary's office with a problem at the polls, these volunteers will investigate and report back to Merrill, who then would respond. The volunteers, she said, would have no authority to give instructions to local election officials.
Merrill also reminded voters Monday that while it is a "good idea" to bring a driver's license with them when they cast a ballot, they also can comply with the state's identification requirement by bringing a bank statement, a utility bill, a pay stub from work or a Social Security card.