Bill would allow towns to reduce polling places for primaries: cost-cutting vs. potential confusion

Towns may be able to reduce the number of polling places they open for the August party primary elections under a bill being considered by the General Assembly aimed at saving municipalities money.

“It’s extremely expensive to have this many polling places open,” said Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. The bill also is supported by the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut.

Law now requires towns have the same number of polling locations for both primary and general elections, although voter turnout is much lower for party primaries. Bysiewicz’s office estimates that about half the state’s 2.4 million registered voters aren’t even eligible to participate in primaries because they are not registered with a party.

“It’s ridiculous. We are spending all this money when one location would be sufficient,” said Karen Cortes, Simsbury’s Democratic registrar.

Simsbury expects to spend $15,000 for the upcoming Aug. 10 primary. If this bill becomes law, the Democratic and Republican town registrars have decided to open just one of their usual four polling locations in an effort to save the town $10,000.

West Hartford Republican Registrar Eleanor M. Brazell says their 20 polling locations could be cut in half for the upcoming primary. West Hartford expects to spend $40,000 for the primary.

The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates this could save some towns up to $25,000 a year.

While the bill has been voted almost unanimously out of two legislative committees, there are some critics.

Rep. Robert Godfrey, D-Danbury, said the bill will have an individual voting at different locations depending on which election it is, and that’s a problem.

“Why are we trying to confuse people where they are going to vote? People are use to going to the same place every year,” he said. “Yes, there are ways to save money, but hurting democracy is not the way.”

Proponents say the bill requires that a notice be mailed 30 days prior to the election to all affected voters.

“This notice might even remind people that there is an election coming up,” said Cortes.

But Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, isn’t buying that argument.

“Mail gets lost … People are busy. They’re not going to remember this notice,” he said.

Bysiewicz said the notice and possibly posting a sign at the previous polling locations of where to go “would take care of this confusion. … It is a good balance.”

Both Democratic and Republican leaders on the Government Administration and Elections Committee and the Planning and Development Committee support the proposal and said they are hopeful it will become law.

“This just makes sense,” said Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Bloomfield, co-chairman of the P&D Committee. “Towns are looking everywhere to reduce money and this would do just that.”

Coleman said he is confident the Senate will consider the bill in the coming days.

Elections committee co-chairman Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex, said “Sometimes you only have 25 people drifting in to vote at a given location. I think people can handle going to another location.”

Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell‘s office had no comment on whether she supports the bill or would sign it into law if it comes across her desk.

In order to affect the upcoming primary elections, this bill would need to become law by May 10 so registrars can comply with another state law requiring a 90-day notice of a polling location prior to an election.

The fact that it could be implemented for the upcoming election cycle worries Rep. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, who has two polling locations in his district.

“We have worked so hard to educate people with where they vote. And now, all of a sudden, you are going to throw a wrinkle in that in the eleventh hour? There is not enough time or education that can be done before the primaries,” he said.

But registrars of voters maintain it will not result in fewer people voting.

“Just give us this as an option,” Cortes said. “It’s not a requirement, it’s an option.”