Aging Equipment, Limited Funding a Challenge for Early Voting


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STAMFORD – City representatives think they have reason to be wary about this year’s elections.

It’s because voters in Stamford will go to the polls in March, April and August, then in November to elect a U.S. president, and two things complicate the busy election year.

One: Connecticut is offering early in-person voting for the first time.

Two: the tabulators used to count ballots in Connecticut are failing; they’re so old that parts can’t be found to repair them when they break down, which is all the time, all over the state.

So members of the Board of Representatives last week invited the registrars of voters and town clerk to their Operations Committee meeting.

Representatives had a lot of questions about early voting, which became law in June and took effect this month.

It mandates early voting for general elections, special elections and primaries. 

It requires that every municipality establish at least one early voting site, with 14 early voting days for general elections, seven days for regular primaries, and four days for special elections and presidential preference primaries.

Connecticut’s presidential preference primary is April 2. That’s when voters will choose their party’s nominee for U.S. president, though not directly. Instead, party leaders use the primary results to award delegates who then select a presidential nominee at the party’s national convention.

City representatives asked about the early voting plan for the April 2 presidential preference primary.

Cafeteria voting

The four days of early voting will be March 26, 27, 28 and 30, Republican Registrar of Voters Lucy Corelli told representatives. The early voting site will be in the cafeteria on the fourth floor of the Stamford Government Center, Corelli said.

That means early voters will have to enter the government center lobby, sign in at the security desk, and ride an elevator to the fourth floor, representatives said.

They wanted to know how many people are expected to vote early, given that Stamford has 73,000 active voters, more than any other municipality in the state.

No one knows how many people will vote early, Corelli said.

“This is new for all of us,” she said. “We’ve never done it before.”

City Rep. Jeff Stella said he’s concerned about added foot traffic in the busy government center lobby.

“It sounds like we’re expecting the security guards to deal with it. I don’t think we have the space for a multitude of voters going to the security desk, asking to go to the fourth floor, waiting for the guards to check their ID,” Stella said. “I see a problem here.”

Corelli said the total of nearly 73,000 voters includes 32,000 Democrats and 13,500 Republicans – the only ones who can participate in a presidential preference primary.

“We have 27,000 people who are unaffiliated. They can’t vote because they don’t belong to a party,” she said. “That brings it down to 45,000 voters on April 2. Then you have to think that 2,000 or 3,000 will vote by absentee ballot, and a lot of people will not vote early. So I’m not too worried about the presidential preference primary.”

But it’s a different story for the Nov. 5 presidential election, when the number of registered voters is expected to be at 80,000.

“I am concerned, and possibly horrified, that we have only one voting location and it’s on the fourth floor,” city Rep. David Watkins said. “People will have to check in and go up an elevator, and we’re going to do this for thousands of people? I don’t think we can count on very few people taking advantage of early voting” in November. 

Corelli said she and Democratic Registrar Ron Malloy are looking to lease private space between Bull’s Head and the Merritt Parkway to use as a second site for November’s 14 days of early voting.

Counters that don’t count

Town Clerk Lyda Ruijter told representatives early voting issues extend to her office. State law mandates that town clerks provide secure storage for early voting ballots until they are counted on Election Day, but her office is out of storage space, Ruijter said.

“We maintain the chain of custody for absentee ballots, and the state says early voting ballots have to be just as secure,” Ruijter said. “But I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”

Then there are the 20-year-old ballot counters. 

“That is my nightmare, because these tabulators are done,” Corelli told city representatives. “The company that made them went out of business, and we have to go out and hunt for parts, like the registrars in every other town. I have a very big concern if we don’t get new tabulators before the presidential election, but it looks like that’s what’s going to happen.”

Jillian Hirst, press secretary for the Office of the Secretary of the State, said Friday that the Bond Commission approved $25 million for the purchase of new tabulators, and other items, in October.

“The process is a priority for this office, and we have moved it forward as quickly and prudently as possible,” Hirst said. “We have issued the [request for proposals] for new tabulators and are in the process of evaluating vendor responses.”

Corelli said Friday that the old tabulators will not be replaced in time for Stamford’s March 5 Democratic City Committee election. The 40-member DCC, which runs the city’s dominant party, endorses candidates for mayor, the Board of Representatives, Board of Finance, Board of Education and other offices.

New tabulators will not be ready in time for the April 2 presidential preference primary, or for the Aug. 13 primaries, when voters will select candidates for state and federal offices, Corelli said.

And Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas has said it’s unlikely there will be new tabulators for the high-turnout Nov. 5 election.

“We’re anticipating that 80 percent of 80,000 voters in Stamford will come out for the presidential election, but I don’t think there’s any hope we get new machines,” Malloy said Friday.

“These tabulators are going to break down, like they always do,” Corelli said.

Put the skates on

Money is an issue, too, the registrars said, as Connecticut begins to allow early in-person voting, one of the last four states to do so.

“It will easily cost more than $100,000, because we have to hire and train people,” Malloy said. 

“The state gave every town, no matter how big or small, $10,500 for early voting,” Corelli said. “That’s probably all we’re going to get.”

Early voting is an unfunded mandate from the state, she and Malloy said. 

“We have one voting district in North Stamford that has more than 6,000 voters, which is more voters than 100 of the 169 towns in Connecticut,” he said. “It’s not fair that all towns get the same amount.”

Hirst said that was what the state legislature authorized.

“While no additional funding has been approved at this time, we continue to advocate for additional elections funding from the legislature, including asking for an adjustment to the budget,” Hirst said.

It all makes for a hectic election year, Corelli said.

“We’ll have our roller skates on,” she said, “but we will do it.”

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.