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Students struggles at the polls
Reporting by Emily DiSalvo and Jessica Ruderman
College students in the New Haven and Hamden area were excited to turn out to vote this Election Day, but long lines and confusion about registration were among the obstacles that prohibited local millennials from casting their votes.
“The fact that we even have to register to vote in this country is a form of voter suppression,” Director of Campus Life for Fraternity and Sorority Life at Quinnipiac Katherine Pezzella said. “It puts that one more barrier for someone being able to wake up on election day and go vote and someone who has to do all of this work in advance to make sure they’re okay to go vote.”
Pezzella spearheaded alongside the Student Government Association (SGA) the initiatives at Quinnipiac to encourage students to go to the polls. Pezzella and SGA held tabling events in the weeks leading up to Nov. 6, to help students register and prepare for Election Day. Pezzella says the fact that there is so many options for college students to register can actually make the process more confusing.
Students in Connecticut have the option to register at home and travel home to vote, register as a Hamden resident and vote here or order an absentee ballot. All three of these options involve planning and extensive knowledge of local deadlines.
“I had a lot of students email me, call me with questions about how to vote, where to vote, if they thought they had registered, why when they showed if they were not registered,” Pezzella said. “That caused a lot of concern for us obviously. If students were saying they registered to vote and were not registered to vote when they showed up to vote, that’s obviously a problem.”
Although many students faced issues trying to register to vote the day of, some students also faced issues registering weeks before.
“I submitted a change of address form through the voter registration drive, who then submitted to the town of Hamden’s registrars of Voters,” senior higher education leadership major Joe Iasso said of his voting experience. “It was not processed even though it was submitted well before the deadline. Luckily I was permitted to vote using my old address [Mt. Carmel campus].”
Despite Iasso’s issues with registering through Quinnipiac, Pezzella felt that many of the complications students faced were issues that could have been avoided.
“We have followed up with every student that mentioned that to us to tried and figure out where the issue lied,” Pezzella said. “It was always with the student except in one incident where the student [Iasso] changed their address and their address was not reflected when they went to the polling location. Every other student that we’ve heard from had an issue that was their fault in registering to vote.”
In New Haven
Quinnipiac students were not the only college students in Connecticut who had difficulties voting this Election Day. Students at Yale University experienced several election obstacles outside of their control that may have unintentionally disenfranchised student votes in the area.
Jordan Cozby, junior Yale student and president of the Yale Democrats and Yale Votes organization says that a number of problems led to the confusion that Yale students experienced at the polls.
The confusion started long before Election Day, however. While students at Quinnipiac were able to request absentee ballots, this option was less appealing to Yale students who do not have free access to PO boxes said Cozby.
“In theory, you’re supposed to pay 80 dollars for a PO box, like the Post Office,” Cozby said. “For people who the only mail they receive would be their absentee ballot, expecting them to pay 80 dollars for a PO box is like a crazy poll tax and an issue.”
As a result, many Yale students decided to go to the polls on Election Day by registering to vote as a Connecticut citizen regardless of their home address. These students were met with even more obstacles starting with where they needed to report to cote.
According to Cozby, the notification about the new voting locations were very last minute.
“Everyone pretty much knows ‘If I live in Ward One, I go vote at the library and if I live in Ward 22 I’m supposed to go at Wexler Grant School,’” Cozby said. “I guess because it’s not a city election, two days before the election we were all made aware of the fact that they weren’t using those lines.”
The second major issue was registration. In Connecticut, citizens are allowed to register on Election Day. Due to high turnout for these contentious elections, the lines for same-day registration were long and understaffed.
“There was a big spike in people who wanted to vote,” Cozby said. “For whatever reason, the city of New Haven put two registrars on shift to manage that mass influx.”
Attorney William Bloss represents the state Democratic Party and expressed frustration at the inefficiency of the voting process in New Haven.
“Why were two people in charge of literally hundreds of people trying to sign up is a question that someone needs to answer for,” Bloss said in an interview with the Hartford Courant. “You would think a college town would be better prepared.”
Cozby and his organization were not made aware of the potential impacts of these long lines until much later in the day.
“We didn’t know this was going to be an issue, we assumed it was going to be easy,” Cozby said. “We had no clue until at around 4 p.m. on Election Day when the city workers came and out and they were like, ‘Hey, the line’s taking people four hours and we close at 8, so you might not be able to vote, so you might as well just leave’ and they put out signs to that effect.”
According to Cozby, whether this was truly a form of voter suppression is debatable because these voters were in line to register, not to vote.
“The law is that if you’re in line to vote, pretty much nationwide, you must be allowed to vote even if it’s afterward,” Cozby said. “It’s not if you’re in line to register to vote. So they were going to not let these people vote and that’s not an expectation anybody walks in with. It’s voter suppression through incompetence, not through malintent.”
American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut legal director, Dan Barrett, expressed his disappointment with the problems that New Haven voters faced this Election Day, but also acknowledged that these difficulties were part of long history of incompetence for the City of New Haven Registrar.
“New Haven’s repeated failure to staff its polling places with enough workers to ensure people’s rights to vote is practically inviting a lawsuit,” Barrett said in a statement on the ACLU of Connecticut website. “The long lines and discouraged voters we saw today were a completely avoidable situation.”
Yale sophomore, Patrycja Gorska was determined to vote despite the long lines. However she said the situation was frustrating, confusing and time-consuming.
“I just kept hoping that I’d be out of the line in an hour or so, and the time estimate just kept getting longer,” Gorska said. “There was also no information on how long it would take to stay in the line.”
The legality of these actions by the City of New Haven was called into question. Cozby explained that Yale Law students and a local voting rights nonprofit called “Common Cause” arrived at the polls to counsel the voters who felt disenfranchised at the polls.
“Some of those volunteer lawyers got those potential voter’s contact info such that if they were disenfranchised they would be able to then file potential casework if there was an issue,” Cozby said.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director for the Common Cause in Connecticut, would like to see early voting expanded. She also thinks that making Election Day a national holiday would ease the same-day registration crowds.
“If we’re going to insist on sticking with the idea that it has to happen all on one day then it really should be a holiday,” Quickmire said in an interview with the New Haven Register.
While eventually, everyone was able to vote except for the people who walked away from the polls, students expressed public frustration at the difficulties they faced while attempting to perform their civic duty.
“They were loudly like, ‘You might not be able to vote so you might as well leave,’ and some random students started chanting out of the blue, ‘Let us vote, let us vote,’” Cozby said.
Cozby, who is from Alabama, was horrified at the fact that this sort of suppression of voters was happening in a state like Connecticut no matter how unintentional.
“I’ve seen the state laws they pass in places to intentionally disenfranchise people and that’s not what Connecticut is doing and the fact that this is happening in Connecticut is a huge problem,” Cozby said.