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Unable to vote, UConn-Stamford student encourages others to cast ballots

November 4, 2018 GMT

STAMFORD — Michael Hernandez can’t vote, but you can and that’s why he was sitting recently in an uncomfortable folding chair in the stained-blue-carpeted offices of city Democratic headquarters.

He had just finished a math midterm at the University of Connecticut-Stamford, and the freshman’s eyelids were heavy to prove it. Surrounded by barking phone bankers, he admitted to running on fewer than five hours sleep; about average this semester.

The 19-year-old wishes he could be part of what prognosticators call a “blue wave” that will hit Tuesday, but circumstances won’t allow him to be a drop in the predicted crest.

Hernandez is a few months away from getting his green card, again, if all goes well. He won’t be allowed in the voting booth until the 2024 presidential contest. “And that’s the best-case scenario,” he said, “no immigration crisis, no government shutdown.”

Hernandez freely admits he is all in for the Democrats, but that wasn’t always the case, and his parents are staunch conservatives. It can get awkward. His stepfather is good friends with GOP candidate Anzelmo Graziosi, vying for the 147th state House seat. Hernandez barnstorms for Democratic challenger Matt Blumenthal.

It is one of many ways he is working to have an impact on Election Day. Forced to sit the race out, he knows perhaps more than most the true value of the ballot. Hernandez is making sure others do as well.

“I can’t vote, so wouldn’t it be nice if can I get 50 people to vote?” he asked.

To do so, this fall he launched a web series of sorts on his Facebook page called “20 reasons to vote,” which has starred politicians he sees at the countless events he has attended.

The city will likely have 70,000 registered voters this year, the most in history. Nearly 2,450 of them are new, just registered as campaigns have heated up since Sept. 1, according to the city registrars’ office. In October alone, 1,721 new voters joined the city rolls, compared with 891 taken off.

“This is more than we’ve ever had,” Democratic Registrar Ron Malloy said. “I’m amazed by how many voters there are.”

Hernandez is confident he wrangled 30 of the new enlistees from the field and friends, but he struggles to come up with other figures.

Maybe he has spent more than 100 hours on campaigns, he said, sometimes for pay and sometimes for free. Probably more than 1,000 calls. Perhaps 500 doors knocked. Then there are the estimated 2,800 calls his brother, Wildin, 13, and 11-year-old cousin Kevin have made to help him out.

Hernandez has lost count between school, stumping and working for his stepfather doing construction, he said.

A polarized populous, and a seemingly omnipresent get-out-the-vote message, including Hernandez’s push, appear to be changing the political landscape in the city and nationwide.

As of Thursday, the city stood at 69,781 registered voters. More will still be counted, including about 700 registrations or address changes the registrars’ office was sorting through late last week. Voters can register on Election Day — some 230 people did in 2014. To do so, visit City Hall on Tuesday, 888 Washington Blvd.

“It is clear that Stamford is growing and people care,” Malloy said.

Late last week, Malloy said the office had already encountered far more absentee ballots than in 2014, the last gubernatorial election.

“A real record for this type of race,” he said.

More than 2,200 absentee ballots have been returned, another 864 are outstanding.

Town and City Clerk Lyda Ruijter warned that several may go uncounted, however, because they were filled out incorrectly.

Stamford is not the only place amid a registration boom. The state also is seeing numbers like never before.

“Connecticut has had record voter registration since 2016, particularly among 18- to 24-year-olds,” said Gabe Rosenberg, spokesman for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

Whatever the outcome of the elections, Hernandez will have something to celebrate.

He turns 20 on Tuesday, but has no plans for a birthday party.

Instead, Hernandez will be with the Democrats at the downtown Sheraton, one of many at the end of a consuming campaign season, all watching the big board, numbers pouring in.

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton