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Report: Hartford Registrars Made "Multiple, Serious Errors" Around Election Day

Jeff Cohen
From left, attorney James Rotondo, Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden, City Councilman Alex Aponte, and City Councilwoman Cynthia Jennings.

An investigation into election day failures in Hartford shows that the city turned people way from the polls, lost track of 70 absentee ballots, and failed to agree on an accurate vote tally.  Now that the problem has been identified, leaders on the city council say they're working on a fix.  

Election day last November began badly in Hartford. Some residents couldn't cast their ballots because the polls weren't open, and the polls weren't open because the voter lists weren't in place. 

A report drafted by lawyers working for the city council say a bunch of factors caused the mess: the city's registrars failed to give the state important voter lists in time, failed to open polling places in time, and failed to resolve discrepancies in vote tallies after the fact.

Credit City of Hartford
Hartford election officials got 1,309 ballots from the clerk's office. But its tally of votes counted and votes rejected only adds up to 1,239.

"This is unacceptable, it's outrageous, we need to be able to do better in terms of running elections in this city," City Council President Shawn Wooden said at a press conference.

Hartford is the only city in the state that has three registrars of voters -- one Democratic, one Republican, and one from the Working Families Party, due to a quirk in state law.

Here's what bothers Wooden: "The total inadequacy of preparation going into the election," he said. "The total level of dysfunction of the ability of those involved with administering the election to actually work in a professional and competent manner with one another. The seeming indifference to getting it right."

Wooden said there still is no clear answer as to which vote tally is the right one. "As we stand here today, we have at least three different versions of what the numbers should be," he said. "And we have testimony from those involved in that process saying, 'We don't know what's right.'"

Credit City of Hartford

The city is the only one in the state that has three registrars of voters -- one Democratic, one Republican, and one from the Working Families Party. That's due to a quirk in the state law.  Much of the outrage has focused on the city's Democratic Registrar, Olga Vazquez. She and her deputy, Garey Coleman, were the only two people to refuse to meet with attorneys investigating the matter.

With mayoral and council primaries and elections in the not too distant future, Wooden said the city council will now deliberate on what to do to fix the problems. Options range from restructuring the office to removing certain elected officials -- something that has never been done.

Credit City of Hartford

Wooden said one major problem is that three registrars can't seem to work together.

"There have been efforts at mediating within the office between the registrars," Wooden said.  "The relationship, at times, I would characterize as nothing short of toxic."

"There's no love lost," said Urania Petit, the registrar from the Working Families Party. She was the only person in the registrar of voters office after the press conference ended.

Petit and Vazquez don't get along. At one point, the report says Vazquez stopped reading Petit's emails altogether. Another time, after the election, the police had to be called to the office.

"It's tough," Petit said.  "It's a tough place to come to work to every single day. It's tough. But I do it because the people elected me. I do it because of the passion I have for this job. I do it because I need to be of service to this community."

In a press release, Mayor Pedro Segarra weighed in.

“It is ridiculous and inexcusable," Segarra said. "This is not the first time this office has demonstrated incompetence and dysfunction. It is unacceptable that our citizens’ right to vote was compromised in any way."

And Luke Bronin, one of his 2015 challengers, weighed in, too.

"In 2013, the people of Hartford voted in favor of professionalizing the registrar’s office," Bronin said. "But the Mayor didn’t take the lead — he stayed silent. The Mayor needs to be an advocate for changing the law so that Hartford can do what the people of Hartford have already voted to do — over a year ago.”  

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.

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