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Stamford voter turnout shatters previous midterm figures

November 7, 2018

STAMFORD — Voter enthusiasm was palpable in the city, where turnout eclipsed the total figure for the 2014 election well before polls closed Tuesday night.

More than 35,000 Stamford voters cast a ballot hours before polls closed, easily topping the 30,000 who voted in the last midterm election four years ago.

David Michel, a Democratic state representative candidate, said about 30 people were waiting to vote at First Presbyterian Church as polls opened at 6 a.m.

One voter at First Presbyterian, however, was not able to get in line.

She was struggling to get out of her car, so poll workers brought a ballot to her.

“The lady was having difficulties coming out of her car and didn’t look like she could walk much, so I said, ‘Get back in the car and we’ll get them out because they can do curbside voting,’” said Michel, who witnessed the incident. “She voted in the car. It’s the first time I’ve seen it in my life.”

At Dolan Middle School, moderator Ryan Teeples said nearly 2,000 people had voted there by mid-afternoon Tuesday. Things were “busy, but smooth,” Teeples said — scanners were working without a glitch, despite the high volume of ballots.

But Teeples said he found himself helping out with something poll workers usually handle.

“Crowd control,” said Teeples, who regularly moderates Stamford polling places. “Directing people where to go, making sure there’s no line-jumping. I don’t usually have to do that.”

‘Everyone is paying more attention’

Karina Davila, 19, was voting for the first time. Most of her friends were doing the same, Davila said — word is out that it’s the thing to do.

“Voting is everywhere. It’s on Twitter, on Instagram, people are talking about it,” said Davila, a Norwalk Community College student. “My parents push it. My mom is an educator and she always tells me, ‘It’s important to speak up for what I believe in and that every vote counts.’”

Davila said the contentious national political scene was not on her mind as she voted in the Dolan gymnasium. Her issue is closer to home.

“Taxes,” said Davila, who works as a babysitter in between classes. “It’s all the money you pay in taxes.”

At Springdale Elementary School, voters came in at a steady clip from morning through the afternoon.

Several outside the poll location appeared to lean blue. Democratic campaigners outside outnumbered Republicans 2-to-1 in the afternoon drizzle.

One outlier was Colleen Bonina, who said she voted for a straight Republican ticket, including gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski.

“I’m tired of the Democrats. I want to see the Republicans get in there and change things,” she said. “C’mon, Bob!”

While the gubernatorial race was at the forefront of many voters’ minds, some in Stamford seemed focused on other issues such as education and the second question on the ballot, which would require public hearings for the transfer or sale of state-owned properties.

“It’s a good thing,” said Doris Bournes, a resident of Stamford for more than 40 years. “They shouldn’t have a right to do that without everyone knowing.”

Bournes, who was voting at Westover Magnet Elementary School in the late afternoon, said she votes often and with issues like health care and education in mind.

“I want to check the government,” she said. “The way it’s going, it’s not good for me or my family.”

Pat Kellogg, a Stamford native and public school teacher, said she was voting due to concerns about education issues at the state level such as pensions and unions.

“I feel it’s my duty,” she said. “I’m an educator so I have a lot on the line. I want to make sure teachers have a voice. We always have something at stake.”

Westover School, the polling place for district 10, has been closed to students and teachers due to severe mold conditions but was open for voters on Tuesday.

The location also served UConn-Stamford students, several of whom showed up hoping for same-day registration, only to be sent to the Stamford Government Center. Confusion over absentee ballots and the same-day registration process sent many of the students back to campus without casting a vote.

“We didn’t want to drive all the way back home to vote,” said Sherman native Annika Moberg, 19, who showed up at Westover with fellow UConn student, Ian Landis, 23, a Fairfield native.

About a half hour later, Anthony Cavuoto, a UConn student from New Milford, showed up with two other students who were also told to go to the Government Center.

Government Center was busy all day with voters hoping to register at the last minute.

Ben Stang and Liz Winter, who moved to Stamford in September, were in line trying to register a few hours before the polls closed.

“I think everyone is paying more attention lately,” Stang said of the political climate.

“And we hate Trump,” Winter added.

Alourde Bernard Pierre, a Haitian native who moved here from Florida, also registered in Stamford the day of the election.

She called Tuesday’s midterms an important election.

“It’s time for change,” she said.

Absentee ballots soar

The U.S. Postal Service worked with Stamford City & Town Clerk Lyda Ruijter to make sure absentee ballots arrived in time to be counted. Changes in the Postal Service distribution system have slowed mail delivery in recent years.

Absentee ballots are particularly significant this election, Ruijter said. As of late Tuesday afternoon, her office received 2,696 ballots by mail — 50 percent more than they got in the last midterm election four years ago.

Ruijter became concerned about ballots after noticing that a much smaller volume of mail arrives on Tuesdays. During the Aug. 14 primary, 29 absentee ballots arrived a day late and were not counted.

As part of a consolidation designed to help the Postal Service operate more efficiently, the Stamford distribution center was closed in 2012, and mail now is routed through a plant in Westchester County, N.Y., a spokeswoman has said. Delivery of stamped mail now takes a minimum of two days.

Erin Kayata, Angela Carella, Barry Lytton and Sophie Vaughan contributed to this report

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