The State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) has opened an investigation into Hartford’s primary election following a complaint that alleged the city didn’t notify voters in the North End of Hartford of a change in polling locations.
The complaint was filed by attorney and former Hartford City Councilwoman Cynthia Jennings, who ran for Secretary of State in 2022 on the Griebel-Frank for CT ticket. Jennings alleges the switch of polling locations for Hartford’s mayoral primary from Liberty Christian Center to the Artists’ Collective “adversely impacted and suppressed the Black and Brown votes, including Black and Brown Senior votes in the September 12, 2023, primary election for Mayor of the City of Hartford.”
“This change in location made it almost impossible for seniors and those without transportation to move to the alternate polling location without transportation or actual notice of the change in locations,” Jennings wrote. “The Hartford Registrar of Voters failed to place proper signage on the entrances to Christian Liberty Church. Literally no signage was placed on any of the entrance doors at Christian Liberty Church for the first nine hours of voting.”
The complaint alleges that Liberty Christian Center was still listed as Voting Poll #12 in the January 20, 2022, City of Hartford Senatorial, Assembly, and Voting district map, and that there was improper or non-existent signage at Liberty on primary day.
According to witness statements provided in the complaint, cars were seen pulling into the center’s parking lot, allegedly to vote, but then turned around and left when it was clear the church was no longer a polling location. Witness statements also indicate that multiple calls were made to the Hartford Registrar’s Office before signs were placed in a more visible location.
“The changing of this and other polling places contributed to one of the lowest voter turnouts in the history of the City of Hartford,” Jennings wrote. “This low voter turnout severely impacted low-income Black and brown residents, most living at or below the poverty level, and a large population of women and children who live in this neighborhood.”
According to numbers reported in CT Mirror, Hartford’s primary saw only 14 percent of registered voters go to the polls for the primary, a steep drop from 25 percent in the 2019 primary. In general, the state as a whole saw only 21.5 percent participation.
According to numbers supplied in the complaint, during the 2019 Hartford Democratic primary, the Liberty Christian Center saw 555 votes, or 21.7 percent of eligible voters. The 2023 primary saw 286 votes cast at the Artists’ Collective, amounting to just 12.5 percent of registered voters for that district and a roughly 50 percent drop from 2019.
“This would disfavor the African-American, Latino and minority communities, while at the same time the polling place that could have legitimately been shut down was the polling place at the library downtown that had been flooded out and closed for months,” Jennings said in an interview. “This was one of the other candidates top voting places. They didn’t close down that one, but they managed to close down and move the polling place at Liberty Church.”
“When you got to the polling place there was no signage on the front door until after 3:30 and we started complaining at 9:30 in the morning,” Jennings said. “Many people drove through there and did not know where they were supposed to vote, did not realize the polling place was closed down, so a lot of votes were lost there.”
Jennings added that mailings sent out by the Registrar’s Office were ineffective because the residents in that district are largely renters and move often, making notification difficult and mailers ineffective. “They are the people who were left out of the opportunity to vote because they were not notified,” Jennings said.
The primary election saw Arunan Arulampalam, backed by outgoing mayor Luke Bronin, secure the Democratic nomination for Hartford Mayor over challengers Sen. John Fonfara and Eric Coleman by less than 600 votes. In total, only 5,235 Hartford residents cast their vote in the 2023 mayoral primary. The United States Census Bureau estimates that Hartford has 120,686 residents as of July 2022.
The SEEC voted to investigate the complaint on October 4, informing Jennings via letter. In an email to CII, Hartford’s Democrat Registrar of Voters Giselle Feliciano said that she had provided information to the SEEC but could not offer comment as the investigation is pending.
“These people were not allowed their constitutional right to vote,” Jennings said. “The bottom line is that in moving that polling place, they caused the election to be thrown,” Jennings said.