Low voter turnout for the Republican presidential nominations on Tuesday has Simsbury officials hoping for a change in legislation at the state level that will allow the town to reduce election costs.
By 2 p.m., only 335 voters had visited Simsbury's four voting locations- a quiet start for the paid staff that operate the town's elections. There are currently 5,084 registered republicans, 4,546 democrats, 5,447 unaffiliated, and 61 other registered voters in Simsbury.
“Connecticut is so late in the primary schedule, people feel that the nominee has already been decided. Four years ago, when Connecticut was part of the Super Tuesday primary, there was much more excitement from both parties,” Republican Deputy Registrar of Voters Gail Stempien said.
The low turnout was not a surprise, and Democratic Registrar of Voters Karen Cortes is hopeful that the State Senate will act on Senate Bill 218 which would help the town reduce the costs by reducing the number of polling locations.
"We've been working on this bill for three legislative sessions," Cortes said.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Senator Kevin Witkos (R), would allow municipalities to determine how many polling locations are needed for a given election, allowing them the ability to reduce the locations and staff needed for an election when low turnout is expected.
Simsbury currently operates polling locations at , , , and .
Each polling location costs Simsbury taxpayers $2,757 which includes poll staffing, memory card formatting, equipment transportation and setup, and pre-election office staffing. The total expense for the town's 4 polling locations is approximately $13,000, according to the Simsbury Registrar of Voters.
"This is important to the town of Simsbury because taxpayers expect the registrars to look out for the bottom line," Cortes said.
Cortes said the majority of elections don't require the use of all four polling locations and, in fact, the process was surprisingly smooth when the town used only one location last November after winter storm Alfred hit the region.
"It went very well and we got very positive feedback," Cortes said. "I think Simsbury voters are very good at switching gears."
New York, Rhode Island, and Delaware hold their primary elections on the same day as Connecticut and each state already allows municipalities to determine the number of necessary polling locations.
According to the Registrar of Voters office, Senate Bill 218 is supported by Secretary of State Denise Merrill, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the Connecticut Conference of Small Towns, the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut, and the Town Clerks Association. Cortes said the bill also has the support of State Representative Linda Schofield.
"If they don't act on this bill soon, it's going to die in session which means we'll be doing the same thing again in August," Cortes said.
Cortes will meet with legislators on Wednesday to encourage support for the bill.
If passed, town registrars would be required to notify affected voters in writing of any change in polling location. The bill would also require registrars to notify candidates and the Secretary of State of their intent to consolidate voting 45 days before the primary. Candidates would be allowed to privately contest the consolidation with the Secretary of State to stop the process.
"While it's going to mostly benefit smaller towns, we need the cooperation of the larger cities to get this passed," Cortes said.