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Article Published November 24, 2020

Clinton Considering Second Polling Place

By Eric O’Connell/Zip06.com

Should Clinton have a second polling pace in the future to alleviate long lines on election day? The Town Council may look into the matter, though the feasibility and need for opening another location remains a question.

At a virtual Town Council meeting held on Nov. 4, the day after Election Day, the council briefly discussed the possibility of opening a second polling place in Clinton in the future. By most accounts, Clinton’s Election Day went smoothly, though there was one common complaint among those who voted in person: long lines.

Election Day in Clinton saw nonstop lines from when polls opened at 6 a.m. until they closed at 8 p.m. For much of the day, the lines wrapped around Town Hall, and out near the annex building. People reported wait times as short as 10 minutes but some people waited in line for more than two hours. In particular, people who resided on streets with names that began with letters A through J on average had much shorter wait times than the people who lived on streets K through Z.

During the meeting, the council had a brief discussion about the election and the complaints. Council member Eric Bergman asked if it would be feasible for the town to have two voting locations in the future. Council member Dennis Donovan floated the idea of the council looking at opening a polling location at the Indian River Recreation complex off of Route 81 since it has lots of parking, would offer people who live in northern Clinton a convenient option, and wouldn’t disturb the school day like having the polls at one of the schools would.

The council agreed the idea of adding a second polling location is something that the town could explore more in the future.

Clinton did have another voting location at one time, but that was when the town was split into multiple districts decades ago. Furthermore, when the town had a second district, the fire department headquarters was the second polling location. That building is located about 100 yards from Town Hall and thus wouldn’t provide much in the way of relief when it comes to having so many people crowded in downtown.

Town Council Chairman Chris Aniskovich told the Harbor News that the council would “keep the options open” about the second location but also said that opening another one isn’t a simple process and would likely require input from the state.

Democratic Registrar of Voters June Hansen said opening a second polling location would come with substantial financial implications for the town. The town would need to hire assistant registrars and another moderator and spend more money on supplies and other administrative needs. The second polling location would also need to be made accessible for people with disabilities, and it would have to be large enough to accommodate all the voters.

Aniskovich also pointed out that the issues of the wait times this year were likely a result of the unprecedented challenge of voting during a pandemic.

“Unfortunately I don’t know if anyone could predict how many people would come out and vote in person,” Aniskovich said.

Due to the pandemic, every voter in Connecticut was able to vote by absentee ballot this year and people were encouraged to do so. However, a majority of voters in Clinton (57 percent or 4,476 people) still chose to vote in person, something that Aniskovich said was hard to predict based on Clinton’s usual turnout for elections.

With so many people choosing to vote in person this year and the social distancing and sanitizing protocols that were required to keep voters safe, the long lines were an unfortunate consequence, Aniskovich said. While the long lines some voters faced were frustrating, Aniskovich did see a positive in the high turnout.

“I’m ecstatic that so many people in our town did get out and vote,” Aniskovich said.

The Numbers

Per the Town Clerk’s Office, Clinton’s voter turnout has increased in each of the last two presidential election, which speaks to the highly charged atmosphere surrounding those two elections. In the 2012 election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Clinton saw a 69 percent turnout with 6,539 people voting. In the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, those numbers climbed to a 77 percent turnout with 7,270 people voting. The 2020 election also had a turnout of 77 percent, but the total number of voters increased by 572 to 7,842.

On the other hand, in the municipal elections held every two years the town only sees about half of the turnout of presidential elections. In the 2017 election, turnout was 40 percent with 3,911 people voting. In 2019, the numbers dropped to 36 percent turnout with 3,622 turnouts. Those turnout numbers raise the question of whether the high turnout numbers in 2016 and 2020 were aberrations that would make spending the extra money on a second polling location worth it, especially if COVID-19 isn’t a compounding issue in the future.

The Lines

Hansen said that while she understands people were frustrated by the long wait times on Election Day, part of the reason for the delay was because the election volunteers did the best they could to maintain six-foot social distancing guidelines along with sanitizing protocols, which led to a perfect storm. As people moved from the lines outside into the Green Room at Town Hall, Hansen said it became harder to maintain the lines, which led to some confusion and longer wait times.

“I felt horrible as the night went on and it got colder,” Hansen said.

Hansen said that for months leading up to the election she and Republican Registrar of Voters Wendy McDermott had to keep track of changing rules and regulations for the election as the state worked to make sure that voting could be handled as safely as possible. “Overall, I thought the election went pretty good,” Hansen said.

Speaking at the meeting Town Council meeting, Aniskovich praised and thanked Hansen, McDermott, and Town Clerk Sharon Uricchio for the work they did around the election. Council members Tim Guerra and Carol Walter also complimented the registrars. “I thought they did an outstanding job making inside the building as COVID-protected as they could,” said Guerra.