Updated at 5:24 p.m.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was the 280th voter to cast a ballot at his polling place in Hartford’s West End Tuesday morning — just one of the state’s many residents who flocked to the polls Tuesday as officials reported high voter turnout numbers more typical of presidential elections than mid-term Connecticut elections.
The secretary of state’s office reported that voter turnout stood at 40 percent by late afternoon. It’s unclear if those figures include Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, where observers are reporting high turnout. Last mid-term election, voter turnout was just under 60 percent.
One of the questions for Democrats, generally the beneficiary of high voter turnout, was whether the crowds of early voters were harbingers of a good election day for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ned Lamont — or the result of a desire to vote before a steady rain began to fall over much of Connecticut by midday.
“If we weren’t facing a forecast of rain, Democrats would be popping the champagne by now,” said Vinnie Mauro, the Democratic chairman of New Haven. “It’s way too early for that.”
Early turnout in New Haven was running far ahead of 2014, when the state’s largest single source of Democratic votes generated 23,183 votes for the re-election of Malloy, Mauro said.
Lamont had single-digit leads over Republican Bob Stefanowski in five of six public polls in October; with Oz Griebel, a former Hartford business leader, polling between 7 percent and 11 percent. All 187 seats in the General Assembly, the statewide constitutional offices, one U.S. Senate, and all five U.S House seats are on the ballot.
While Democrats generally win or lose statewide races based on urban turnout, the party has paid extra attention to suburban women, whom national polling have identified as a potentially strong anti-Trump bloc.
Up the coast from New Haven in the shoreline town of Guilford, state Rep. Sean Scanlon, a Democrat who won an open seat in 2014, said the registrar told him the 9:30 a.m. turnout number was typical of a presidential year.
“I vote at 7 o’clock every election day. This is the first year I’ve ever had to wait in line to vote,” Scanlon said. “I was 273rd at my polling place at 7 a.m. I think there’s just an incredible amount of energy in the suburbs right now, not just in my town but across the state.”
The Indivisible movement, a progressive reaction to the election of Donald J. Trump, is strong in Guilford, meeting on Saturdays in the basement of a church near the town’s green. Susan Bysiewicz, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, said she was stunned on a recent visit to find the basement crowded with women working on get-out-the-vote postcards.
Scanlon said he’s had the same experience on a visit. “It’s like Santa’s workshop, 100 women over the age of 65 cranking out postcards,” he said.
In West Hartford, 1,226 votes were cast by 11 a.m. at the Elmwood Community Center, more than the full total in 2014, said Jonathan Slifka, the Democratic town chairman. By 12:20 p.m., the tally was 1,681 and turnout town wide was 38 percent.
“It’s been a constant flow,” said Smita Thaker, the moderator at Elmwood.
In 2014, Malloy beat Republican Tom Foley in West Hartford, 14,817 to 8,793.
J.R.Romano, the Republican state chairman, cautioned against drawing conclusions from the turnout. “It’s also been high in the valley, which has been trending our way,” he said, referring to the Naugatuck Valley, where Republicans have been winning legislative races.
Romano also noted that Connecticut voters are ticket splitters. Democrats won top-of-ballot races in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016, but Republicans gained state legislative seats and three of those years and held their ground in a fourth.
Gubernatorial candidates upbeat, on the move
Stefanowski was upbeat as he brought his 88-year-old father, Robert V. Stefanowski Sr., to vote in North Haven, where the candidate grew up.
“You’re running on adrenaline at this point, but the last week in a half has been terrific. We’ve really seen a shift in momentum. People want change, they’re tired of Dan Malloy and they know Ned is going to be more of that,” Stefanowski said.
Then he drove to vote in Madison, where a college student who voted against him exited the polling place as the candidate entered.
Shannon Wynn, a 24-year-old student at Southern Connecticut State University, said she was motivated to vote, because she wants to see equal pay for equal work. Wynn, who said she voted the straight Democratic ticket, said she doesn’t support President Donald Trump and can’t vote for any politician who does.
“And I don’t support what our president is doing in a variety of ways, and I think that our rights are at stake here. And blue wave, baby—that’s why I’m here,” Wynn said.
Stefanowski did better with Heather Clinton, an unaffiliated voter in Madison who said she was concerned about her children’s future, the state’s economy, and quality mental health care.
“I really think we need to go back to what do we actually need and starting at a zero base in terms of budget,” she said. “What do people actually need, as opposed to this is what we have and we need more. I’m not a fan of putting the tolls back in. I used to live here when we had tolls. I lived here when we didn’t have an income tax, so I’ve just watched the policies that have been put in place do more damage than good.”
As college students, local politicians and local residents with their toddlers in tow entered the polls at the Church of the Incarnation in Wethersfield on Tuesday afternoon , Lamont stood in light rain to deliver a simple message.
“Thanks for voting,” he said.
A star-struck 99-year-old voter unable to walk inside to vote had her daughter drive up next to Lamont to take a picture with him.
“I’m with you,” she told him as cars piled up behind them waiting to get in the lot to vote.
As of 3 p.m., 34 percent of the town’s registered voters had shown up to vote.
Standing in grey gym shoes, blue khakis and no umbrella next to his wife, Lamont courted potential voters, including a gentleman holding a sign for a Republican running for the state legislature outside the poll.
“I voted for someone,” teased Sofia Striffler, who was greeted by Lamont as she walked to her car.
“Hey. Every vote counts,” he replied. “Thanks for voting.”
Indepedent gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, a Hartford resident, arrived at his polling place, the House of Restoration Church on Main Street, shortly after 6 a.m. He was driving himself, in a blue Ford Escape, so all of his staffers could work polling places and otherwise sway voters.
“The name’s Griebel,” he said to the election clerk, who found the name and checked him in.
In brief remarks after he voted, Griebel stuck to the theme of his 11-month campaign: the two-party system is “fundamentally broken” and people ought to have a third option, an independent who could bring both sides together.
“People shouldn’t vote based on how they think their neighbors will vote, but based on who they think can best do the job,” he said.
Griebel was upbeat and positive Tuesday morning, and flashed a sense of humor. Asked if he had plans beyond the election Griebel said, “If the political gremlins steal this one from us, we’ll have to think about it.”
By 9 a.m., the turnout in Fairfield’s 10 precincts ranged from a low of 20 percent to a high of 28, said Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, a Democrat.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said McCarthy Vahey, who won an open seat in 2014, but has been a poll stander since 2005. “The emotion is amazing — on both sides.”
Foley carried Fairfield four years ago, 10,875 to 9,882.
In the Hartford suburb of Manchester, turnout through 11 a.m. was running ahead of the pace set in the 2014 gubernatorial election, Republican Registrar of Voters Tim Becker said. Large crowds were waiting at several of the town’s eight precincts when voting opened at 6 a.m.
“We had lines first thing in the morning and it’s been a steady flow since then,” Becker said, adding that the first hour of voting traditionally is lighter. Lines tend to develop only as the morning commute picks up between 7 and 8 a.m. “This time the peak happened right from the start.”
Manchester is pivotal this year to control of the General Assembly, where the Senate is tied 18-18 and Democrats have an 80-71 advantage in the House. Sen. Steve Cassano, a Democrat, is targeted by the GOP. He is opposed by Rep. Mark Tweedie, a Republican whose House seat is targeted by Democrats.
As of 1 p.m., about 30 percent of Danbury’s 40,647 registered voters had voted.
“People are busy exercising their right to vote,” said Mayor Mark Boughton, who was defeated in the five-way gubernatorial primary by Stefanowski. “I’m glad the rain hasn’t kept people away.”
And in tony Wilton, where just over 45 percent of the town’s 12,958 registered voters had voted as of 3 p.m., including the 50 people who registered to vote today, moderator Janet Anderson said that turnout at Wilton High School on Tuesday afternoon was comparable to a presidential election.
Sanjay Sardana brought his two sons with him to vote and said both local and gubernatorial races drove him to the polls.
“I think we got put into a big hole in the last eight years,” said Sardana, 46. “I’m hoping the next governor can make Connecticut the state it once used to be.”
He said he voted for Stefanowski.
Nina Dinshaw, 46, said she grew up in a developing country and knows that when corruption starts at the top, it will seep down.
In the United States, she said, “corruption is seeping into politics and therefore into society.”
To combat that, she said she voted for candidates that she viewed as honest. She voted for all Democrats, including Lamont and Murphy.
Quiet Corner not so quiet
Wet weather and a lack of details from gubernatorial candidates didn’t stop voters from turning out in large numbers in Brooklyn.
Three-term First Selectman Rick Ives, a staple in Brooklyn politics for decades, said the town’s only precinct — the Brooklyn Middle School — attracted longer lines in the opening hours Tuesday than he had seen in three-decades of poll-standing.
“I can’t even remember a turnout this steady,” he said. “It’s been a group day. People aren’t coming alone and there are a lot of faces I haven’t seen before.”
Monique Lefevre, an unaffiliated voter who came with her two children to cast her ballot around 2 p.m., said her biggest frustration is she didn’t hear enough details from the three candidates seeking to become the next governor.
“I want to hear more about what they stand for” and less about why the competition is similar to outgoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy or President Donald Trump, she said.
Brooklyn Democrat Jerry Mainville was more blunt in his assessment. “I think they spent more time trash-talking each other than telling us what they stand for,” he said.
Both Lefevre and Mainville said they want to hear the candidates provide much greater detail on how they would preserve and attract new manufacturing jobs to eastern Connecticut, which has one of the highest regional unemployment rates in the state.
“Voters really understand what’s at stake here,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, who is seeking re-election in the 29th District and came out to great Brooklyn voters early Tuesday afternoon.
Whether it involves a worker at the state prison in Brooklyn who’s concerned about the security of his pension or working families who want to preserve paid family medical leave rights, Flexer said the voters she encountered are focused on the issues.
New citizens, excited and determined
Jeffrey Williams, a Jamaican who became an American citizen this year, was told at his polling place in West Hartford that he was not registered, even though he had signed up at the Department of Motor Vehicles in September.
Williams, 40, left to go to Town Hall, where election-day registration is conducted. He would be one of more than 100 new voters to register on election day in West Hartford.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to vote today,” he said. “This is my turn to vote.”
Williams said he planned to vote Democratic, attracted to the party’s positions on immigration and gun control. He said the economy is important to him as well, because he is a carpenter whose employer ran out of work for him.
In Danbury, Ravi Lolla and Neeraja Eswara voted at the city’s same-day registration site at City Hall. Lolla, 41, said he and wife, both from India, became U.S. citizens on Friday after living in Danbury for 14 years.
Both were elated to exercise their new right to vote in the country. They brought their 6-year-old son with them.
“I felt have a right to vote, and I have a say,” Lolla said.
Amelu Tassel, 45, of West Hartford said she voted Republican over their stance on social issues. She is opposed to abortion and gay marriage on religious grounds, she said.
“I am worried about the direction the Democrats are taking us,”she said.
Same Day Registration — big time
It was, as one poll worker put it, “democracy in action.”
Hundreds of University of Connecticut students piled off buses in a steady stream Tuesday, crowding the corridors of Mansfield Town Hall in the Same Day Registration and voting line.
Although some on-campus students who were already registered were able to use a separate queue at the town’s community center, even more formed a line up one hallway, around the corner and down another as they waited to register, then vote. Poll workers were busy helping the students fill out forms and take their place at a table of computers where they could register for the first time or transfer their registration from another state. Other students used their phones.
“It’s been pretty steady all day,” poll worker Louanne Cooley explained.
Outside, standing in the rain, State Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, shook hands with voters and said turnout, so far, had been substantially higher than previous years. “We could be on pace for 3,000 up from about 1,800,” he said, “if it holds,” as he glanced up at the clouds.
A governor ready to help with a transition
Malloy, who voted with his wife, Cathy, at the Hartford Seminary, waited in line. One woman exiting stopped to say she would be sorry to lose him as a neighbor. The Executive Residence is several blocks away, by Elizabeth Park.
The Malloys have closed on a home in Essex. Aside from a temporary teaching position at his alma mater, Boston College, the governor’s plans for January are unclear.
He said he would be watching the results at the official residence, off the public stage. “It’s not my time,” he said.
Other than voting, his future political involvement turns on his next job, he said. “I’m always going to vote,” he said. “I’ve never missed an opportunity to vote since I was 18 years old. I’m going to keep voting.”
Malloy said he would be tracking Connecticut and the half-dozen states where Democrats hope to flip Republican gubernatorial seats. Malloy remains active in the Democratic Governors Association after stepping down as its chairman.
Malloy knew the identities of chief of staff and budget director the night he was elected in 2010, getting a fast start on transition after winning Connecticut’s closest gubernatorial race in 56 years. His administration is ready to assist the next governor.
“We want to be helpful and transition government to the next folks,” he said.
Does Malloy have any advice for the victor?
“I would say, ‘Sleep late tomorrow, then we’ll start.’ ”
Reporter Tom Condon contributed to this story.