With several Connecticut towns reporting more than 50% voter turnout by 6 p.m. — and one reporting more than 75% — residents streamed to the polls today to cast ballots that, from some corners, could resonate nationally.
The race for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District between incumbent Democrat Jahana Hayes and Republican challenger George Logan drew a national spotlight. Other contests included a contentious and expensive gubernatorial rematch along with races for U.S. Senate and General Assembly.
Candidates began gathering with party members to await results after polls closed. Each town in Connecticut is expected to report initial results to the secretary of the state by midnight. Absentee ballots might take longer to count.
On Tuesday afternoon, Connecticut Secretary of the State Mark Kohler said things had been running smoothly at the polls.
“It’s been nicely quiet,” he said. “That means things are running well. People are doing well, they’re getting out there to vote. And so far, there’s nothing of significance to report.”
By 6 p.m., with 122 towns reporting, turnout was 37%, according to unofficial numbers from the Secretary of the State’s office. Granby had a 58% turnout, and Morris, home to 1,776 voters, had a 76% turnout.
But urban turnout was lagging compared to 2018, officials said.
Farmington had a 54% turnout, Salisbury recorded 66%, and Essex, with 5,344 registered voters, had a 61% turnout at 6 p.m.
“We expected a high turnout, and we’re getting maybe even a higher turnout than expected,” said Mike Ryan, a Democrat working as assistant registrar in Greenwich’s 6th district. Greenwich had a 39% turnout by the afternoon.
As of Tuesday morning, 141,982 absentee ballots had been returned. In 2018, the last gubernatorial election year, about 88,000 absentee ballots were returned.
Some had hoped turnout among the 2.2 million active voters would exceed the 65% mark of four years ago, when Democrat Ned Lamont won an open race for governor over Republican Bob Stefanowski and Democrats regained solid control of the General Assembly.
Polls opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m.
Problem in Durham
Voters in Durham were inconvenienced Tuesday morning after Regional School District 13 scheduled a district-wide school safety training event at Coginchaug Regional High School, the only polling location in town, leading to parking challenges in the school’s lot.
Poll workers said they were not notified ahead of time and had to create a separate designated parking area on a large patch of grass, bordered by cones.
“All of the parking lots around the high school were full. I had to drive around for a while to find a place to park,” said Kristina Talbert-Slagle, chair of the Durham Democratic Town Committee, who arrived there to vote.
In an email to parents Tuesday, district Superintendent Doug Schuch apologized for the disruption.
“I also want to apologize for some of the parking challenges that some voters may have experienced this morning as a result of a district professional learning [session] that took place in the CRHS Auditorium. … Today was the only date this school year available for that to take place. Once we learned that finding parking immediately next to the school was becoming challenging for voters, we stopped our training and asked our employees to relocate their cars from that area.”
In the email, Schuch told parents that the high school was also hosting a soccer tournament and asked attendees to not park directly next to the school so parking spaces are available for voters.
“This should never happen. There should never be any difficulty for voters in Durham to access the polls,” Talbert-Slagle said.
For Jenni Mierzejewski, a Durham resident for the past three years, attending the polls in the morning was crucial.
“I’m a single mom of five and I work full-time, so I only have certain windows to do these things,” she said.
When she arrived at the polling station, Mierzejewski could not find a parking spot that would accommodate her five-year-old daughter, who has disabilities.
“People were parking on sections of the lawn that weren’t parking spots … Without an accessible, fairly close parking spot, it was impossible for us to go in that building this morning,” she said.
What voters are saying
Voters at the Linden Street School in Plainville cited several reasons for heading to the polls, including democracy, immigration and the economy. The polling site was one of the closest in the fifth district during the 2020 election, with Donald Trump winning by only 3% and fewer than 100 votes.
“I think the Republican party is way off base on a lot of things,” said Steve Sheron, who said he’s most concerned about what he perceives as a fundamental misunderstanding about the state of the economy.
“Having been through the ups and downs in the economy over the years, I know ‘this too shall pass,’” said Sheron, who worked for 30 years on Wall Street.
Despite the harsh reality of record inflation, he said there are plenty of ways in which the Democrats have improved people’s economic lives, but the party has done a bad job of communicating its wins.
In New Haven, James Nelson, 63, turned up to vote at Barnard Magnet School.
Nelson cited the economy as a factor in him casting a ballot Tuesday. He found it especially important to vote, he said, because of Black Americans’ long struggle for voting rights in this country.
“Our ancestors fought for this,” Nelson said. “You have to vote to get a voice.”
Ryan Mikkelsen, 29, said he had heard that registering and voting on the same day at New Haven City Hall was a smooth process, so he showed up on Tuesday. He came out to vote in part because of the noise surrounding the security of elections.
“This felt like an important election … the validity of voting as a system is being challenged,” said Mikkelsen, a second-year graduate student at Yale. “Voting is an indicator of faith in the system.”
Lisa Brandes went to the Edgewood School in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood with a lot on her mind. She thought of the COVID-19 responses, the economy, investments at the Tweed Airport, education, women’s rights, reproductive rights and gun control.
She voted a straight Democratic ticket.
“I think they’ve done a lot, helping us through COVID,” she said.
She wants to see the state continue to embrace reproductive rights and gun safety measures.
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” Brandes said. “I don’t want to see us go back.”
New Haven City Hall registered 660 voters Tuesday, an election official said. The busiest stretch at the polls was from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., one volunteer said.
There was steady traffic throughout the day, with many Yale University students flowing inside before and after classes. During the final hour, wait times were minimal.
Karen Grant, a Stamford resident and immigrant from Canada, said she’s lived in the area for 20 years and finally decided late last year to officially become a citizen so she could vote.
“I’m not going anywhere, so I should really decide to exercise my civic duty,” she said. “I’m very excited about democratic process and I’m open to, you know, working with whoever wins.”
Asked about Connecticut’s reputation for high taxes, Grant, who works in the biotech sector, said, “My position on taxes is always like, as long as the person making as much as me pays the same percentage I do, we have no issues.”
“I’m not looking for a tax cut,” Grant added. “I feel like I do pay a lot of taxes, yes. But I’ve lived in Europe, I’ve lived in Canada. They pay just as much, maybe more.”
On the Central Connecticut State University campus, students urged eligible, young adults to vote on Tuesday.
Pat Early, a commuter student and Army veteran, wore his “I Voted” sticker on his chest while he sat in the Student Center speaking with a friend. He was able to vote before his classes started.
“Just vote, it’s the least you can do, if you’re able to,” said Early, 26. “Vote early and vote often.”
Giovanni Mason-Brooks of Coventry said it was his first time voting.
Though he lives on campus, Mason-Brooks, 18, said he filled out an absentee ballot a month ago while he was home. He called the process “quick, easy, and painless”.
Mason-Brooks worried that some college students would have difficulty voting because of class schedules.
“Professors should be more understanding so students could go out and vote,” he said. “They don’t have to cancel classes but should be more lenient on attendance [on election days].”
At Hartford City Hall, Democratic Registrar of Voters Giselle Feliciano said Tuesday seemed more intense than the 2018 election.
“I think people really wanted to get out there and take care of the question of early voting and, of course, City of Hartford as a charter,” said Feliciano.
Feliciano was heartened to see a bevy of new voters.
“We had a couple hundred people who came in and registered,” she said. “It was exciting to see a brand new, 18-year-old student from a university who was extremely excited that it was her first time to vote. It was good to see young faces be involved in the democratic process.”
The race for governor
Inflation, abortion and crime have been issues across the board in contests for General Assembly, Congress and governor.
Lamont and Stefanowski are in a three-way race with Rob Hotaling, the nominee of the Independent Party of Connecticut. He is a banking executive with no elective experience.
Connecticut voters have not unseated a governor since 1954, and every public poll shows Lamont with a comfortable lead, yet Stefanowski insisted Monday, “We feel the momentum.”
“I am fired up,” Lamont told a crowd in Waterbury on Monday, then joked, “Knowing it’s one day to go that gets me fired up.”
Stefanowski has attacked Lamont on inflation, crime, and taxes.
On the campaign trail, he accused the governor of hoarding billions in surplus funds as residents hurt by inflation choose between food, heating oil and prescriptions. Stefanowski has pledged to repeal parts of a police accountability law passed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and he has committed not to require COVID vaccinations for school children.
He has also pledged to leave unchanged Connecticut’s law allowing abortion up to viability. During a recent interview, he said he believed abortion should be limited to the first trimester but later said he misspoke on the issue.
Lamont has campaigned primarily on his record of managing the state’s budget, reducing debt and reversing the state’s reputation as unfriendly to business.
Over his first term, Connecticut’s finances have turned from alarming deficits to sizable surpluses, boosted by increasing tax revenues and federal aid. Lamont has committed to maintain Connecticut’s abortion laws and has said he sees no reason to mandate COVID vaccinations for children, which he sees as likely to become more akin to annual flu shots. He has adopted an optimistic tone throughout the campaign, saying Connecticut is getting its “mojo back” and pointing to new business start-ups and expansions.
A Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters released Oct. 24 showed Lamont with a 15-point lead over Stefanowski (56% to 41%) heading into Election Day. Polling from WTNH/The Hill/Emerson College on Oct. 25 gave Lamont an 11-point lead over his Republican challenger, 52% to 41%. Independent candidate Rob Hotaling drew about 1% of support from likely voters in that poll, while a little more than 5% were undecided.
Connecticut has not seen a double-digit win in a gubernatorial race since 2006, when Gov. M. Jodi Rell won a full term by a landslide after taking office in 2004 after the resignation of Republican John G. Rowland, who was convicted on federal corruption charges.
Lamont outspent Stefanowski by nearly a 2-1 margin through Oct. 30. Lamont has spent $21.7 million, while Stefanowski has spent $12.2 million.
U.S. Senate: Blumenthal v. Levy
Blumenthal, a Democrat who won the seat in 2010 after two decades as attorney general, is facing Levy, the surprise winner of a three-way Republican primary after her endorsement by Donald J. Trump.
“I was honored to win his endorsement. He and I agree completely on policy, but I’m Leora Levy. … Trump is not on the ballot. Leora Levy is,” she said. “And if there’s any president’s name on the ballot, it’s Joe Biden, because of his failed policies.”
A supporter of abortion rights in 2012 and critic of Trump in 2016, Levy has since repudiated both positions. She now proclaims herself opposed to all abortions, except in cases where a pregnancy is a consequence of rape or endangers the life of the pregnant person.
Levy, who emigrated as a young child with her parents from Cuba, has opposed giving permanent legal status to the 800,000 young adults living in legal limbo for a decade under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
She has said she would support arming teachers, if they are trained.
On Tuesday morning, Levy and her husband Steve cast their votes at Glenville School in Greenwich.
Levy said she’s ready to take on the challenge of being a senator in Washington, “because I’ve lived a remarkable and blessed life, thanks to God. He’s put me in amazing places. I’ve had opportunities to learn about life. You don’t have to be a career politician to actually get something done for the people of Connecticut and for the American people.”
“I will be going there and rolling up my sleeves and getting to work on day one,” she said.
Blumenthal’s voting record and legislative history have been the centerpieces of his campaign for a third term to the Senate.
He has said he believes the decision to terminate a pregnancy should be between a patient and a doctor and that he would support codifying abortion protections at the federal level, a bill that has stalled in the divided Senate.
During a debate early this month, Blumenthal said he wants to keep working to reduce energy prices ahead of the winter months, citing efforts to seek additional funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP. He also has said he urged President Joe Biden to release more barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help lower costs.
U.S. House: All five seats, one in national spotlight
Incumbents in Connecticut’s five U.S. House of Representative seats are seeking reelection.
A national spotlight is on the 5th District. Republican George Logan is trying to unseat Rep. Jahana Hayes, a two-term Democrat, and become the first Republican to win a Connecticut congressional seat since 2006 and help the GOP regain the House.
The race has essentially boiled down to experience versus change.
Hayes has defended her four years in office with the hope of building on legislation recently passed by Democrats. Logan, meanwhile, had pledged to “offer an alternative to the status quo” and give Republicans representation in Congress for the first time here in over a decade.
Targeting the 5th District is part of national Republicans’ larger strategy to contest districts in deep-blue New England in a year when they could make enough gains to flip control of Congress. Republicans have been out of power in the U.S. House since 2019.
Connecticut General Assembly and top offices
Voters will also cast their ballots for races in the state House of Representatives and Senate. Thirty legislators are vacating their seats, and candidates in 42 districts are running unopposed.
The Judicial Department has arranged to have Superior Court Judge Cesar Noble available until the polls close at 8 p.m. in the event that there are any claims of election irregularities. Noble is seated in Hartford Superior Court, where any state election claim would have to be filed because the likely defendant, the Secretary of the State’s office, is located in Hartford.
There have been two elections that have ended up in state court recently — one involving ballot issues in Bridgeport and another in which a judge ordered Hartford voting sites to remain open an extra half hour because of the delayed opening of several polling places where workers didn’t get voter registration rolls on time.
Reporting by CT Mirror staff writers Mark Pazniokas, Lisa Hagen, Dave Altimari, Erica Phillips, Jaden Edison, Ginny Monk, José Luis Martínez, Jessica Bravo and Katy Golvala is included in this story.