Elections Government

West Hartford Finalizes Plans for Early Voting

Election Day at Town Hall. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The Town Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday night that in part establishes West Hartford Town Hall as the sole polling place for early voting.

By Ronni Newton

Early voting in Connecticut is set to begin in April 2024, and the West Hartford Town Council on Tuesday night unanimously adopted a resolution that sets Town Hall as the polling location.

Also as part of the resolution (see PDF below) was formally accepting and appropriating the $10,500 grant for the early voting program that the state legislature provided to each town when the budget was adopted last year. The grant will offset some of the additional costs, but will not come anywhere near completely funding the program – which is part of the reason the town decided to limit early voting to one location.

According to “An Act Implementing Early Voting,” passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont last spring, cities and towns are required to operate at least one polling location for a total of 14 days prior to a general election. In addition, cities and towns are also required to provide at least one polling location for seven days before an August primary election, and for four days prior to a special election or presidential primary – beginning with the presidential preference primary in April 2024.

“Our registrars were in agreement that we would use one polling place for early voting,” Town Manager Rick Ledwith said at a virtual special meeting of the Council’s Finance & Administration Committee that preceded the Tuesday night Council meeting – which was also held virtually due to a snowstorm. He said Republican Registrar Beth Kyle, Democratic Registrar Elizabeth Rousseau, and Town Clerk Leon Davidoff had met the previous week to discuss the plans and finalize their recommendation.

Kyle told the F&A Committee that among the considerations leading to the recommendation having just one polling place, and locating it at Town Hall was “concern with custody of ballots” which need to be placed under lock and key in the Town Clerk’s office at Town Hall every night. On each and every early voting day, if polling were to be held elsewhere, the ballots would have to be driven back to Town Hall, which could create a risk.

In addition, Kyle said, “We chose Town Hall because it is central really to all the voters,” and there is full accessibility, plenty of parking that can be easily managed, and a generator in case power goes out.

Connectivity is also critically important because there needs to be online access to the Centralized Voter Registration System (CVRS) to ensure that someone arriving for early voting has not already voted by absentee ballot, and also to ensure that a prospective voter is properly registered in West Hartford and has not already voted in another town.

“We don’t want to disenfranchise anybody,” Kyle said.

Cost was also a factor in choosing to have just one location for early voting, Kyle said. The $10,500 one-time grant from the state isn’t even enough to fully fund one location for the April presidential preference primary, let alone the November election and any possible August primaries. Every town and city received a grant for the same amount, regardless of the number of voters.

Rousseau said a portion of the grant will be used to cover the cost of purchasing a fireproof vault, which costs an estimated $4,500, that will be used for storage of the ballots at Town Hall. The town will also need new ballot boxes (roughly $300 each), and label printers so that the early voting ballots will be marked with the voter’s names address, district, and a bar code for proper tracking. Rousseau also said a conservative estimate of the cost of staffing for four days of early voting at just one location is $8,500.

When the town adopted its budget for the current fiscal year, funding was included in the Registrars’ budget for early voting because they knew there would be additional costs.

When redistricting occurred prior to the 2022 election, postcards were mailed to all households advising them. “We’re going to do something similar telling all the households in West Hartford that early voting is happening,” said Rousseau. She said they are working on the messaging in collaboration with other towns. The postcards will be in English and Spanish.

Signage will also have to be purchased informing the public that early voting is taking place, and there will be messaging through the town’s website and West Hartford Community Interactive, as well as through other news sources, noting that early voting is taking place.

Davidoff said the Secretary of the State has made a request of $7.5 million to cover the additional costs to municipalities, but that does not appear to be forthcoming.

In West Hartford, we have an engaged electorate, he said, and in a presidential election year he expects lots of early voting, as well as absentee voting, assisted voting, and election day registration.

“The working relationship between the Town Clerk’s Office and the Registrars of Voters could not be any better,” Davidoff commented during the F&A Committee meeting. Among the issues that they have already had to work through is that the Town Hall auditorium cannot be used for any other purposes on the days that early voting is taking place. He also noted the important “chain of custody issue,” explaining that the number of ballots must match up to the recorded number of votes cast.

“I want to reassure everybody that every vote, no matter how you vote … your vote will be counted and we will work very diligently to avoid any types of errors,” Davidoff said.

“I for one did not understand how complicated this was going to be,” said Democrat Deb Polun prior to the Council vote.

Mayor Shari Cantor said the reason the Secretary of the State needed to be informed last week if a town planned to use more than one location for early voting, so it was important for the Council to address the issue Tuesday night.

“This is much more complicated, there’s a lot of nuances,” Cantor said, adding that instituting early voting the year of a presidential election “will be learning by fire.”

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