Early Voting in Stamford Attracts Few to Primary, But Registrars Look to November Wave

(CT Examiner)


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STAMFORD – Tuesday’s presidential preference primary was viewed as a dry run for Connecticut’s new early-voting program.

But only 347 Stamford residents voted early – barely .8 percent of those who were eligible.

So the primary may not have been much of a test for November’s presidential election, when more than 60,000 Stamford residents are likely to turn out and a good portion will want to vote early.

In total, 4,560 voters cast ballots, slightly more than 10 percent of the 44,828 who were eligible to vote in the primary. 

That total includes those who voted early, the 448 who voted by absentee ballot, and those who voted in person on Tuesday. About three-quarters voted Tuesday in person.

The early primary voters trickled in over four days, March 26, 27, 28 and 30, all to one polling site in the lobby of the Stamford Government Center. 

A presidential preference primary, held each presidential election year, lets voters indicate their choice of candidate to be their party’s nominee for president. Voters don’t directly choose the nominee – state parties award delegates based on results of the primary. The delegates then vote for a nominee at the party’s national convention. 

This year Democratic President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, former President Donald Trump, already have enough delegates to clinch their party nominations for November’s race.

“The candidates have been decided, so people weren’t very interested in the primary,” Stamford’s Republican registrar of voters, Lucy Corelli, said of Tuesday’s low turnout.

Early primary results showed Tuesday that Biden won 48 of 60 Democratic delegates and Trump won 22 of 28 Republican delegates.

Turnout was low statewide, and only 1.4 percent of 1,200,000 eligible Democrats and Republicans voted early.

It was an relatively modest launch of early voting in Connecticut, which until now was one of only five states that did not offer it.

And it may not have been a useful exercise in Stamford, where the voter rolls, already the largest in Connecticut, are expected to hit 80,000 by November. If history holds, 80 percent of those on the rolls – about 64,000 voters – will cast ballots on Nov. 5.

There’s no way to know how many will vote early in the presidential election, registrars have said. A study commissioned by Connecticut Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas showed that, among states that offer early voting, half had turnouts that ranged from 20 percent to 50 percent. 

It was also impossible to know how many voters would show up early for Tuesday’s primary. 

Registrars statewide have scrambled to prepare for early voting since the state legislature last year passed a law allowing it to begin with this month’s primary.

In January, Stamford registrars said they would designate one early-voting poll site in the cafeteria on the fourth floor of the government center.

Members of the Board of Representatives questioned how, if turnout were large, voters would queue up to sign in at the security desk and make their way up to the cafeteria.

The early voting site then was moved to the lobby.

Registrars now must begin to prepare for two more early votes.

Under the state program, poll workers mark off the names of early voters in the Centralized Voter Registration System to prevent them from casting more than one ballot.

It’s more work for election officials, and more days to work.

An Aug. 13 primary that will decide candidates for state and federal seats includes seven days of early voting, Aug. 5-11.

The Nov. 5 election includes 14 days of early voting, Oct. 21-31 and Nov. 1-3.

Stamford, as the city with the most registered voters and a track record of high turnout, has its work cut out for it, registrars have said.

So far they have handled a March Democratic City Committee election and Tuesday’s primary with limited help from the longtime Democratic registrar, Ron Malloy, who has been out for medical reasons.

“Ron is not feeling well and has been working from home,” said Corelli, the Republican registrar. “I’m handling things in the office.”

Malloy did not return a request for comment.

Registrars are elected by voters and have no supervisor in City Hall or in the Office of the Secretary of the State, Director of Communications Tara Chozet said. Town clerks must notify the secretary’s office in case of a vacancy, Chozet said. There has been no notification from Stamford, she said.

If a registrar were to leave office, “the deputy registrar would then become the registrar of voters, pursuant to” state law, Chozet said. “That new registrar of voters would then be able to appoint their own deputy registrar.”

Democratic Deputy Registrar Monica di Costanzo did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

Malloy and Corelli have been outspoken about another problem that’s dogged Stamford and other municipalities in recent years. Connecticut’s ballot tabulators break down repeatedly, and are so old that it is difficult to find replacement parts to repair them.

Thomas’ office began requesting funding for new tabulators a year ago, but the Connecticut State Bond Commission did not approve the $25 million allocation until October.

Chozet said Tuesday that Thomas’ office is in the middle of seeking a vendor to supply new tabulators.

“Once we finalize a contract, the timing of the roll-out will be dependent on the vendor. We also must factor in time to test the machines, potential supply chain issues, and registrar training,” Chozet said. “Our current tabulator vendor has secured machines from other states to increase the available inventory for spare parts. We remain in touch with our towns and vendor to keep abreast of any issues.”

The secretary is moving as quickly as possible, she said. 

“We’re on the path to purchase new machines before we see Stamford’s situation replicated across the state,” Chozet said. “The situation is currently under control, but there is no additional time to waste.”

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.