A Steady Turnout, And A Bit Of Political Weariness, In Killingworth
A small line started to form on Tuesday, Election Day, at 5:15 a.m. outside of Killingworth Elementary School, the town’s only polling place. By late afternoon there had been a steady stream all day of voters making decisions about who would govern them, from the state’s top spot of governor to judge of probate, plus a question that would require the state legislature to decide whether to introduce no-excuse absentee ballots statewide in upcoming elections.
“It’s been busy non-stop,” said Catherine Iino, the town’s former first selectwoman, a Democrat, who was standing outside the polling station Tuesday afternoon with Michael R. Dove, a fellow poll stander. “I’m definitely impressed with the turnout.”
As she and Dove engaged in a good-natured debate about whether the steady stream of voters was the result of more people working from home these days, they greeted Kristina Blaha as she walked by with her young children. Blaha was there to vote, of course, and also to say hello to her mother-in-law, Republican Registrar of Voters Lauren Blaha, who took a minute from her busy day to say hello to Kristina and the grandkids when they walked in.
Tuesday afternoon was very much a family affair at the Killingworth polls, with that being just one example. In the late afternoon there were moments when it seemed that there were more children entering the polling place than adults.
Alison Signorelli walked in with a triple stroller bearing Amelia, 4, along with Noah, 1, and Faith, 2. Mary Osterling brought her 15-month-old daughter Mary and Owen, 3. Shortly after they arrived, her husband Jay arrived, with their daughter Abby, 5. Sure, it was a matter of convenience for the parents, and it was definitely a family-friendly polling place, but for some parents there was more to it than that.
“I think it’s important for them to see the process,” Mary Osterling said after she had cast her ballot. “Also, they learn lots of skills, like standing in line. And of course, they get the stickers. But I also want them to see that I vote in every election. I’m a teacher [in another town] and I have kids in this school system. It’s very important for all kids to understand why we are voting. I want them to learn that the issues that are important in the household are also important in the community.”
Inside, having said goodbye to her immediate family, Blaha was back to keeping track of the numbers, entering hand-written numbers in a spiral notebook, trouble shooting unruly absentee ballots that insisted upon folding up and clogging the voting machine, and making sure people walked in the entrance and out the exit, rather than the other way around. As she juggled all of her tasks, she cheerfully greeted many of the voters by first name.
“It’s like old-home week with Lauren,” joked Democrat Registrar of Voters Nancy J. McCormick, as she worked side-by-side with Blaha and one of their Deputy Registrar Amy Roberts-Perry, a Republican. “She knows everyone! It’s ‘how’s your dad? How’s your mom? Any grandkids yet?’”
‘We’ll All Be Happy When It’s The End’
Blaha, returning to the registrars folding table on the side of the elementary school gym, admitted her familiarity with voters comes with having grown up in town and having served for 21 years as a registrar.
With a few minor exceptions, her entire family, including immediate family and her townwide network of friends-like-family, were having a good day at the polls. “Overall it’s been smooth,” she said. Then she paused, and added, “And I think we’ll all be happy when it’s the end of the mid-terms.”
Don’t get her wrong. Like municipal registrars all across the state who have so ably adapted to so many massive changes over the recent years, she’s dedicated to the job and making sure everything runs just so. Her point is that the politicking, these days, seems to never, ever, ever, ever end. “We need shorter election seasons, that’s all there is to it,” she said. “I think it leads to apathy” when the political season and politicking stretch on endlessly.
And with that, she was back over to the voting machine to make sure it was still running smoothly and then it was back to the registrars’ table with the spiral bound notebook that contained a tally of voters by the hour, along with other details, a record that goes back decades through at least four handwritten notebooks and several registrars of voters.
An Impressive Turnout And One Upset
By the end of the night, the notebook would show more than 3,540 ballots cast, an impressive turnout of more than 72 percent of registered voters in Killingworth. That was significantly higher than the 57.53 percent voter turnout reported statewide by the Secretary of State
According to unofficial results, Killingworth voters opted by a hair’s width for incumbent Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont and his running mate Susan Bysiewicz. For U.S. Senator, it was incumbent Richard Blumenthal. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat, prevailed over Republican challenger Mike France, and State Senator Christine Cohen, a Democrat and incumbent, just barely edged out Republican challenger Paul Crisci.
These results reflected statewide trends, allowing Democrats in Connecticut to expand their numbers in both the House and the Senate, in addition to retaining the governorship. Assuming unofficial results hold, Democrats will have a 24-12 advantage in the Senate and a 98-53 advantage in the House.
But further down the ballot, Democrats in Killingworth were dismayed to find Killingworth voters preferred Republican Chris Aniskovich to incumbent Democrat Christine Goupil. This reflected results in other towns, making Aniskovich one of the few Republican challengers successful in Connecticut during these midterms.
While Goupil’s showing was a source of dismay for Democrats who stayed at Killingworth Elementary until almost 9 p.m. to hear the results read off by Blaha, they said it was not a total surprise that vote margins in their small town were so narrow and that some races some did not go as they had hoped.
They shrugged off their disappointment.
This is a town, after all where, according to the Secretary of State, there are 1,380 active Republicans on the voter rolls; 1,352 Democrats, and, like many shoreline towns, a preponderance of unaffiliated voters, 2,100, along with a smattering of minor party candidates. So, for these shoreline towns, it’s often about the issues and the individuals rather than the political party.
Lots of Absentee Ballots
One big difference this year from years past, of course, in Killingworth, were the absentee ballots. Killingworth mailed out more than 500 ballots, and saw more than 400 returned, a significantly higher number than in the 2018 mid-terms.
That was also true statewide, of course, since, just like working from home, voting by absentee ballot has become more of a norm since the pandemic. In fact, on the ballot this year, is that measure that would take Connecticut a step further towards enacting no-excuse absentee ballots.
That measure found favor among Killingworth voters, with 1,752 yays to 1,366 nays. Again, this reflected the sentiment statewide, with the ballot measure finding favor by a decisive margin of 674,002 to 444,745 or 60.24 percent to 39.75 of votes cast.
Perhaps that is not surprising, since absentee ballots, even offered in the limited form during the midterms, were already popular. As of midday Tuesday, the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Office reported that more than 141,000 people in Connecticut had already cast absentee ballots in this elections, with Democrats returning more than 75,000 to Republicans’ approximately 27,500.
While most small towns are expected to be able to process the increased volume of absentee ballots on election night, or shortly thereafter, the Secretary of State’s office said, it’s possible that larger municipalities might take a bit longer.
“Towns can count tonight, and many of the small towns will,” Desmond Conner, a spokesman for the Office of the Connecticut Secretary of State, said Tuesday. “ But many of the larger towns will continue a count until tomorrow. Either way, they have until 48 hours after the polls close to get it done.”
Blaha said she expected Killingworth would be able to submit their final results in a timely manner. They did, as did most other municipalities in Connecticut, making yet another Connecticut Election Day that was, for the most part, blissfully uneventful.
Next Steps For Absentee Ballots
The passage of the absentee ballot measure was just the next step in a process that now allows Connecticut’s legislature, if it so chooses, to amend the state’s Constitution to allow for no-excuses absentee ballots for all voters.
“The great news is that is passed so easily,” says Killingworth’s Carol Reimers, who works with the League of Women Voters-East Shore, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to protecting and expanding voting rights.
State officials and the legislature will now discuss details, including how to provide funds for the additional staff that will be needed. “This should be decided in the 2023 [legislative] session so it can start as soon as possible for upcoming elections.”
The state’s newly elected Secretary of State Stephanie Thomas said November 9 that she and her office are already working on the details. Thomas said they will study all of the available data to make sure that expanded absentee ballot voting is implemented in a way that is safe, secure, and ensures the integrity of elections.
“By January first I will have a plan in place and I will be talking with legislatures even before that,” she said during a press conference.“
There is currently a lawsuit challenging the implementation of expanded absentee ballot voting, but Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said Nov. 9 said he was confident the state would win the case.
In the meantime, Reimers said the state League of Women Voters will monitor the proposed legislation as well, and that members might also testify at public hearings.
“Locally we will watch what comes from the legislative process and then see if we can support towns with the implementation in any way. We may offer a meeting to inform the public once things are settled,” she said. “It was a good Election Day with such a good number of voters turning out. It was great to see such participation!”
One More Big Decision
On Election Day, Killingworth’s voters walked into the elementary school and cast their vote for Ned or Bob. They had to decide among a the choices of a major party or the Libertarian Party the Working Families Party or the Griebel-Frank for CT Party. And then it was yay or nay to voting by absentee ballot.
Then, many of them rushed outside to make yet another momentous decision.
The Girl Scout Cookie table.
On their way there, voters were likely to encounter a trio of six-year-old Brownies dressed like cookies, offering samples, and advising, “We take cash AND credit!”
Those Brownies, Brielle Claery, Greta Webster, Luciana Perez, along with their friend Alucia Church, ably worked the crowd handling brisk business all day that then “exploded” as the evening approached, said Troop Co-Leader Kelly Webster, who was accompanied by her Co-Leader Tara Cleary, Cookie Mom Kelly Inga, and volunteers Eliana Perez and Richard Perez.
“They typically don’t sell all of these until spring,” she said of the wide array of cookies available. “This is specifically for elections.”
By the time many of Killingworth’s voters walked out the elementary school exit that evening, Webster said, it was all about the sugar.
“They want to talk about cookies, not the election,” she said.
Alison Signorelli, having made her decision, cast her ballot, and then pondering the cookies, made her decision about what to have for dessert that night, and paid for her cookies. She then walked off with Amelia, Noah, and Faith tucked into her triple stroller, echoing mothers everywhere by sing-songing, “Not until after dinner.”