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Despite rain, heavy turnout reported across the region

In an election that could draw the highest percentage of voters for a midterm since 1970, area registrars and polling place moderators were reporting heavy turnouts, even in towns that saw more absentee ballots than usual.

Whether or not the turnout would reach the levels of a presidential election, it was extremely high for a midterm vote.

For much of the day, double lines into the Stanton School gymnasium in Norwich stretched down the school’s long main hallway. Some voters said they waited 45 minutes or longer to cast their ballots.

Republican Registrar Dianne Slopak said the numbers for this gubernatorial election rival a presidential election year, and by 5 p.m. had surpassed the 2014 gubernatorial election, when Norwich had a 42 percent overall turnout. “And we have three hours to go,” Slopak said.

In Old Lyme, 3,562 people had voted as of 5 p.m., representing a nearly 61 percent turnout.

“It has not let up,” said Cathy Carter, Old Lyme Republican Registrar of Voters. She said Old Lyme was seeing between 300 and 400 voters an hour and there wasn’t a “lull” during the day, as in past elections.

At bustling Waterford Town Hall, officials at the Registrar’s Office said midterm elections typically see turnout percentages in the mid-60s. By 5 p.m. — with three hours to go and officials expecting an after-work rush despite rain — Democratic Registrar Julie Watson Jones said the town approached 59 percent, with almost 7,500 out of 12,751 registered voters turning out.

“It’s good turnout. It’s just below presidential,” Jones said.

Even some bad weather didn't seem to have an impact.

"Usually they stay away with the rain but not today," said Lorraine Elliott of the Montville registrar's office.

As of 6 p.m., 7,549 of East Lyme's 11,590 registered voters had visited the town’s two polling places. “We’re barely keeping up with what’s coming in,” Democratic Registrar Barbara Jo McGrath said.

Groton had enough ballots for 85 percent turnout, and about 5 p.m. Republican Registrar of Voters Kristen Venditti did not expect any risk of running out. She also didn’t expect voter turnout records to be broken, though voting has been high throughout the town’s seven voting districts.

About 5 p.m., 1,769 people had voted at S.B. Butler Elementary School — the location “was insane all day,” Democratic Registrar Paul Duarte noted — while 1,414 had voted at the Groton City Municipal Building. Venditti said that for the latter, 85 percent turnout would be about 2,000 ballots. 

At the polling place at West Side Middle School, 983 people voted as of about 4:45 p.m. Moderator Deb Patrick said she expects at least 1,100 to 1,200 people to vote by the time the polls close. She’s been the moderator for at least 10 years and said this is the highest turnout at the polling place since the 2008 presidential election. She said there’s about 4,000 active voters who use that polling place.

In Salem by 4 p.m. 1,553 of the town’s registered voters had cast their ballots, according to Democrat Registrar of Voters Betsy Butts. Republican Town Committee Vice Chair Vernon Smith said that with four hours of voting remaining, turnout had nearly reached the total for the last midterm election, which was 1,668. The town also had 28 residents register on Election Day to vote.

Some voters said recent political divisiveness drove them to vote in the midterms.

"We are so incredibly divided at this point," said Evan Carpenter, a Waterford resident who said he has voted in most midterm elections. "I know which way I want to lean. I want to see if I can ensure it happens that way."

Casey Crouch, an East Lyme resident who had his 2-year-old daughter in his arms, said he tries not to miss any elections but considered this year's particularly important.

"The country has gone a little insane lately," he said. "I'm trying to bring things back to some normalcy here. ... It's not easy voting with a 2-year-old but it's the only time I could do it."

At 4:55 p.m., 1,334, or 57 percent, of the 2,328 registered voters in Stonington District 1, which includes Stonington Borough and the surrounding neighborhoods, had cast their ballots at the borough firehouse.

"And it's not even 5 p.m.," moderator Fred Souza said as the after-work voters were beginning to have a hard time finding parking spots in the adjacent St. Mary Church lot.

Souza said there was line of voters waiting at 5:45 a.m. and there had been a steady stream since.

The heavy voting started early in most towns. At East Lyme High School, where a police cruiser was parked prominently outside, assistant registrars Anna Montgomery and Loralyn Burdick said about 8:30 a.m. there had not been a dull moment.

The location was averaging about 300 voters an hour, Burdick said, with people sometimes having to wait in line for a cubicle to free up.

With about 57 years of polling place work between them, both said interest in voting seems to be on the rise, with more younger people participating and more parents bringing their children to watch the process.

"I haven't noticed (a lot of younger voters) yet, but it's early," Montgomery said.

Mitzi Barhorst, moderating for the third time but her first at Oswegatchie Elementary School in Waterford, said about 9 a.m. that the turnout had been "amazing."

"It's one of the better turnouts we've had, that's what I'm thinking," she said.

Barhorst, who has been working the polls for nine years, said the town received more absentee ballots than normal this year, which she thought might negatively impact in-person turnout Tuesday.

"But it has been great," she said.

New London High School had seen more than 500 voters by 9:15 a.m., moderator Rose Butler said.

"We started with 800 in our bag of ballots," said Butler, who said the location had a backup bag on hand should it need more.

"Although we haven't gotten there yet, I feel we're definitely going to reach that," she said.

The high school was one of multiple locations statewide that had a "voter challenger" on hand this year, Butler said.

Butler said the challenger, Ken Langille, was watching to ensure people provided proper identification and would object if he felt they hadn't.

In a voicemail message, Gabe Rosenberg of the state Secretary of the State's office said challengers have to make their challenge under oath and only can do so if they know, suspect or reasonably believe a person voting either isn't who they say they are, doesn't live where they say they live or is disenfranchised.

Butler said she was told she could veto Langille if she felt a voter was legitimate but, if she agreed a voter was not, that voter would get a provisional ballot, or one that is counted only upon verification of a voter's identity, instead of a regular ballot.

"We haven't had a challenger in a long time," Butler said.

Langille said he was in New London on behalf of the state Republican Party, has participated in election recounts and political campaigns and had not seen any problems at New London High School as of 9:30 a.m.

Langille was hired for the District 1 polling site, the city's largest, at the request of the Republican Registrar of Voters Rob Pero, who heeded the advice of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski.

Pero said the idea of unofficial checkers, who watch over the official paid checkers, was debated with Democratic Registrar Bill Giesing and they jointly decided a challenger would be less disruptive.

Pero said the challenger can actually aid and help direct people who are voting while watching for irregularities.

“This is done to help the voting process. This is not done to prohibit voting,” Pero said.

The challenger was paid the normal $250 fee that most of the poll workers are paid for the day of work. District 1 has a total of 14 workers, including moderator, two registrars, four checkers, four ballot clerks and two machine tenders.

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