Overwhelming Voter Turnout, Issues At Polls Delay Local Vote Counts

Published: November 07, 2018 at 10:03 am


NOTE (Monday, November 12, 2018): One of the photo captions accompanying this story has been updated to correctly reflect Jeff Capeci's status within Newtown Republican Town Committee. 

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Local voting trends mirrored those nationally as nearly eight out of ten eligible Newtown voters reported to polling places around Newtown to return Republican incumbent State Representative Mitch Bolinsky to Hartford, along with endorsing spending for a new police headquarters by a lopsided margin of around 3,200 votes.

While incumbent 112th District State Rep JP Sredzinski, who represents several neighborhoods in southern Newtown, was unopposed, incumbent GOP State Senator Tony Hwang, whose 28th District encompasses all of Newtown, was reportedly successful in his campaign against Democratic newcomer Michelle Lapine McCabe.

In the westerly 2nd statehouse District, which includes some neighborhoods in Dodgingtown, the second time appeared to be the charm for repeat Democratic challenger Raghib Allie-Brennan. In his second attempt in as many years, the young aspiring lawmaker reportedly defeated incumbent first term State Rep Will Duff.

In other races affecting Newtown, incumbent Democratic US Senator Chris Murphy declared his victory moments after the polls closed on election night, followed a short time later by Democratic 5th US Congressional challenger and former national Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes, who will step into the seat vacated by Rep Elizabeth Esty, who did not seek reelection.

A combination of overwhelming voter turnout, issues with ballot scanners at Newtown’s two busiest polling locations, and a shortage of absentee ballots that forced an early morning hand count of paper ballots combined to cause uncharacteristic delays for local registrars of voters, who provided accurate but unofficial poll results to The Newtown Bee until around 6 am Wednesday. Vote totals are not official until they are reported by the town clerk.

As 106th District candidate supporters were updated on the likelihood of late voting results, gatherings for Republicans at My Place restaurant, and Democrats across the street at Barnwood Grill, began breaking up several hours after polls closed at 8 pm with no clear winner in sight. But just after 6 am November 7, Democratic Registrar LeReine Frampton contacted the newspaper to affirm that Rep Bolinsky was the narrow winner, capturing 5,683 votes to Ms Harriman-Stites 5,538.

The 145 vote margin of victory was not narrow enough to force a recount, Ms Frampton said. Just before midnight, campaign workers for Ms Harriman-Stites came to the registrars office to question the status of ballots that were diverted into holding bins at the Reed School polls after the optical ballot scanning machine there experienced a mechanical malfunction.

Poll workers at Newtown Middle School also had intermittent issues with a ballot scanner Tuesday, but Newtown was not alone in that respect. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill (who also won reelection Tuesday) called into Hartford’s WNPR saying a number of Connecticut polling locations reportedly experienced scanning machines jamming or malfunctioning as voters who arrived drenched from heavy downpours throughout the day inserted ballot forms that were compromised, wrinkled, or ripped because of moisture and high humidity.

As polls closed across the state, Newtown Republican Town Committee members began showing up at My Place. The Queen Street eatery’s party room quickly filled, with the hopes of most pinned on Rep Bolinsky, who was hoping for a fourth term.

Before any official numbers rolled in, however, more than 13,420 ballots had to be accounted for. Almost 80 percent of the town’s registered voters had reportedly turned out on Tuesday, possibly a record number, according to local registrars. The incumbent lawmaker termed the day’s numbers “incredible.”

“These are better than a Presidential year,” he said at the time. “It’s nice to see so many people engaged. We have no idea what it means yet, of course,” he added.


Early Results

The first unofficial results to arrive were from the Head O’ Meadow polling district, telegraphing a win for the incumbent over his challenger at that first of three polling locations reporting.

“That’s the toughest district, and we won it,” Mr Bolinsky commented. Nearby, a few fist bumps were shared among supporters.

As additional guests crowded into the small room, more people asked the State Rep how he felt. His answers ranged from “good” to “incredible.”

A short time later, around 9:30 pm, Ms Harriman-Stites appeared briefly at Barnwood, telling Democratic party members and supporters about anticipated delays before returning to her headquarters in offices above Bagel Delight on Church Hill Road to await official news with Democratic Town Committee (DTC) Chair Eric Paradis and other campaign members.

She was warmly welcomed at the restaurant by friends, including Kerri Lyons; Tory Sandifen, who was helping with campaign social media; Michelle Garrity and Aidan Garrity; a young supporter, Jenn Stoltz; Gary Crone; Barb Sibley; and Judit Destefano, who had all hoped to celebrate a win as the evening wore on with no clear results in sight. By 11 pm, Mr Paradis was telling The Newtown Bee that he had “significant issues with the numbers being reported and will contest every ballot to the extent of the law.”

He then said no other comments were coming from the campaign or DTC. Ms Harriman-Stites also declined to comment at the time.

At about 7:42 am Wednesday morning, Ms Harriman-Stites posted the following message on a social network site:

“After speaking with our election officials, I just left a message for my opponent congratulating him. I hope he will work hard, reaching across the aisle, to truly represent Newtown in the way we deserve to be represented over the next two years. I am still so hopeful that we can work together to bring forward important issues to create the best Newtown, the best Connecticut, possible. 145 votes. Every loss is painful, but I am so incredibly proud of the campaign that we all ran. Together. It was never about me — it was about all of us, investing time, effort, energy, and hope... so much hope.

“And that is not lost,” she continued, “I know that the energy we generated, the issues we brought forward, and the integrity with which we carried ourselves was noticed. This team, our team, is made up of the most incredible group of dedicated individuals I have ever met. I would not trade one second of our time together. You have made an indelible mark on my heart. I will never forget the trust you put in me.

“Let us not forget just how far we have come. And we are not going away,” Ms Harriman-Stites concluded, “not by a long shot. I will continue to serve you on the Board of Education. I will do everything I can to continue working as hard as I can to impact change. And I ask you to do the same. Our voices are important. Do not ever doubt that. Be proud of what we accomplished. I know I am.”


Work To Do

Saying he loves his home state, “the most beautiful state in the nation,” Mr Bolinsky told The Newtown Bee Tuesday evening that there is still a lot of work to do in Hartford before Connecticut returns to the business attraction it once was.

“There are a lot of folks who are absolutely terrified for the future of Connecticut,” he said. “They see their neighbors moving, their taxes going up, and the possibility of tolls without tax relief. But I’ll die before we have tolls on the roads unless there’s 100 percent offset,” he added. “ If we’re going to do this, we have to back way off the gas tax or back off something else that’s going to make you move to Tennessee.”

Mr Bolinsky hears from constituents regularly, he said, who have decided to move out of the state. The latest was just that morning.

“I met a man outside Reed School who had just voted,” the State Rep said. “He came over and shook my hand. He said he had voted for me [several] times for State Rep and previously when I was on the Legislative Council. But this morning he told me, ‘This is my last election in Connecticut.’”

Mr Bolinsky continued. “He told me he’s newly retired, and he and his wife decided this summer that they were done here. They can’t afford to stay, so they’re moving to Tennessee.”

Nearly two hours after polls closed, Mr Bolinsky still had little to announce to his supporters.

“The only thing I’m willing to project at this time is Newtown will have a new police station,” he said at 9:45, referring to one of three ballot questions voters considered on Tuesday. “That was an overwhelming Yes, and we need a new police station for these people who serve us so well. That’s a big win.”

By 11:30 pm, fewer than a dozen stalwart supporters remained at My Place. While local numbers were very slow to be reported — something Mr Bolinsky said was an ongoing issue in Newtown — the dwindling group continued to monitor results being reported across the state and country, thanks to a large screen TV still broadcasting in the local establishment.

Fifteen minutes later, campaign manager Ryan Knapp said Registrar Frampton had contacted the Secretary of The State’s office, reporting that Newtown would not meet the midnight deadline to report its results. Tallies were not expected, he said, until sometime Wednesday.

“It sounds like it’s a real mess over there,” he said of those still working at the municipal center. “It’s amazing that our state, with such high taxes, can’t figure this out.”

See separate report with unofficial polling results and additional details about area races and ballot initiatives.

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