Just four days before the state’s historic double primary election, officials in many Connecticut communities were looking for a new place for voters to cast their ballots.
Tropical Storm Isaias knocked out power to dozens of polling places on Tuesday.
Despite pressure from the governor to get those polls back open in time, local registrars weren’t taking any chances.
On Thursday and Friday, Ashford’s Democratic registrar of voters, Lauren Olson, scrambled to get Ashford School ready for the primary after she said Eversource couldn’t guarantee that the power would be restored at their regular polling place, Knowlton Memorial Hall, by Tuesday.
“This is my first time that I’ve ever had to do that,” said Olson, who has worked in the Registrar of Voters Office for 25 years.
Olson wasn’t the only election official forced to make the last-minute change.
“We know there’s about 35 that are definitely without power or internet. So, that’s a problem,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
Merrill cautioned there could be even more. Power problems made it difficult for her office to assess the situation statewide. However, she noted that the utility companies were given a list of all of the polling locations before the storm ended.
“We have the list and we’re committed. We will have every polling facility up by Tuesday,” said Craig Hallstrom, President of Eversource’s Regional Electric Operations.
Merrill felt Gov. Ned Lamont's admonishment of Eversource on Friday morning, during which she says Lamont said there would be "hell to pay," if the power wasn't restored to the polling places soon, provided the necessary pressure to get the utility company to keep its commitment.
“They must be open before Tuesday. We cannot wait until Tuesday to set up the polling places,” Merrill said. “They’re just going to have to get the power back on. It’s absolutely imperative.”
Olson said she didn’t feel the power company made her polling place a priority.
“I have not seen any trucks from Eversource around in my town yet, so I’m very glad that I made the decision to change the polling place,” said Olson.
Merrill said every municipality is required to have an emergency backup location. Ashford’s is the town hall, which Olson said won’t work because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s what made it especially difficult for holding two primaries with two separate lines of people in the lower level conference room,” she explained, noting that less than half of the 1,500 voters eligible to cast a ballot on Tuesday have requested to vote absentee.
The voting booths and plastic partitions are now set up at Ashford School, which has enough room for voters to physically distance themselves. Olson said a generator will keep the lights on.
“I hope it never happens again. But, I know that I have a really strong team here and we’ll do whatever we have to here to make voters have a safe place to vote,” she said.
“The voting will go forward,” added Merrill.