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City Must Pay Poll Workers To Do Nothing

by Paul Bass | Mar 16, 2012 2:07 pm

(15) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Politics, Campaign 2012

Paul Bass Photo Under state law, New Haven must spend over $24,000 for next month’s Republican presidential primary to hire 128 people to work for 16 hours at 32 polling places—including places where only one lonely Republican has cast a ballot in the past.

Rae Tramantano wants the state to let New Haven avoid all that expense by consolidating polling places.

And she’s a Republican.

Tramantano (at right in above photo) is not just any Republican. She’s New Haven’s Republican registrar of voters. She has dedicated her adult life to encouraging people to vote.

But she and her Democratic counterpart, Sharon Ferrucci (at left in photo), have concluded that so few Republicans vote in New Haven, that it makes no sense for the taxpayers to spend more than $750 to operate each of 32 different polling places for the a GOP presidential primary next month. They know that in some places hours will go by without a single person arriving to fill out a ballot. So they’re preparing a request to the Secretary of the State’s office for a waiver to allow the city to consolidate voting to perhaps a dozen or so districts for the April 24 Republican presidential primary.

In the last Republican presidential primary, in 2008, exactly one Republican voted all day at West Hills’ polling place. At polling stations in the Hill, Fair Haven, Newhallville and West River, between one and five Republicans voted. A total of 898 Republicans voted citywide. The polls were open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Democrats had a presidential primary in 2008, too. So the staffers at the polls still had work to do.

But this year, the Democrats do not. Only the Republicans do. Under state law, Ferrucci and Tramantano must still hire a moderator ($350), an official checker ($140), a ballot handler ($135), and a machine tabulator ($130) to work from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. at each polling place.

Those people would spend almost of that time cooling their heels at many of the sites this year.

Citywide New Haven has only 2,458 registered Republicans, according to figures compiled Thursday. (It has 45,549 registered Democrats, 64,302 voters overall.)

“I don’t know if I’m going to win on this one,” Tramantano said Thursday. “I’m going to give it my best.”

Ferrucci suggested consolidating polling places within state assembly districts. Tramantano would like to see Ward 11 have just one polling place, Bella Vista, since few voters cast ballots at the ward’s other spot, Ross-Woodward School. She also noted that East Rock’s Wards 9 and 10 vote at the same spot, Wilbur Cross High School, during construction at East Rock Global Magnet. Why have two separate platoons of ward poll workers at the same spot? she asked. In the 2008 presidential primary, 58 Republicans voted in Ward 9, a grand total of 36 in Ward 10. (Those were among the highest totals in the city.)

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and her legislative and elections staff attorney Ted Bromley said they sympathize with the local registrars’ request—but see no way they can fulfill it. At least this year.

State law clearly requires municipalities to have the same polling places for primaries that they have for general elections, they said.

A current bill drawn up by the legislature’s General Administration & Elections Committee might change that for future years. It would allow communities to consolidate districts for expected low-turnout primaries if none of the candidates objects. GA&E approved the bill March 12. It now must pass both houses of the legislature.

Even with permission, consolidating districts might prove trickier than it seems. For instance, New Haven’s Ward 30 has two polling places. One person voted at one of them, the Clarence Rogers School, in the 2008 GOP primary. Five at the old West Hills School, the other spot.

But as Ward 30 Democratic Co-Chair Honda Smith noted, a huge barrier—West Rock—stands between those two polling places. And a lot of people in that ward don’t have cars. So shutting down one station might actually prevent some people (or someone) from voting.

New Haven GOP Town Chairman Rick Elser offered a solution: Make everyone come downtown to the Hall of Records to vote in a Republican-only primary. And pay for rides for anyone who needs them. That’d probably be a lot cheaper, he noted, than paying all those workers all day in 32 polling places.

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Comments

posted by: streever on March 16, 2012  2:22pm

Ugh. I understand (and appreciate) the desire to save people money on this, but I’m of the thinking that you don’t cut constitutionally mandated services for any reason.

If anything, this should just be one more shot in favor of consolidating wards. Why the heck do we have 30 wards?

Lets just cut it down to a smaller number, of very diverse wards, and call it a day.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on March 16, 2012  3:20pm

What about changing the law so that anyone can vote in any primary?  More voting, not less!

posted by: DingDong on March 17, 2012  10:39pm

This is idiotic.  I like the Town Chairman’s proposal.  898 taxi rides at $15 each would cost $13,740.

posted by: Mom of Beansie on March 18, 2012  7:42am

Wards 11 and 30 have two polling places.  It was testified that this was due to geographical issues in the ward.  Every other year half of Ward 11 votes in Ward 12.  It is very confusing.  Ross Woodward school is no longer a neighborhood school but a magnet school.  Why is Bella Vista treated so differently than other senior housing complexes in the city?  The voting area is much farther than 150 feet from Eastern Street.  It’s on a private property where the landlord can tow the car if parked on the private drive.  The visitor’s parking lot is unpaved and extends back into East Haven.  In no way is this voting site ADA compliant for any voter not in residence in Carabetta’s towers.  If you want to go down to one voting place in April, shouldn’t in be in the Neighborhood School—Bishop Woods.

posted by: rosee on March 18, 2012  4:09pm

In WA State, the mailbox is your polling place.  WA State votes by mail. In the 2008 election, that equated to an 84% voter participation.
http://vote.wa.gov/results/20081104/Turnout.html

posted by: robn on March 18, 2012  5:24pm

I agree with OTC; simultaneous open primaries. To reduce obstructionism (voting for the biggest jackass in the opposing party’s primary), maybe there’s a trigger that closes the primaries back down if the registration delta between two competing parties is less than 10%.

posted by: downtown dweller on March 18, 2012  6:30pm

@streever—

I can’t see anything, anywhere, that this service is “constitutionally mandated.” There is nothing to that effect in the article, nor, apparently, in the Connecticut Constitution. The service appears to be entirely a creature of statute.

Statutes differ from constitutional provisions in that they’re designed to be changed more easily, as is needed. In this case, it may be that the statute was passed at a time when fewer towns were effectively one-party towns. But whatever the history of it, it clearly makes no sense for New Haven right now. It would be perfectly acceptable to have fewer polling places: some people would have to travel farther to vote, for sure, but certainly no farther than they have to in rural wards or districts. And, as another commenter pointed out, the city could still make it very easy to get voters to the polls by providing transport itself.

Your idea for fewer wards is good, but far harder to implement than this quick fix. We should change this statute first, as it clearly makes no sense, and then deal with the politically much harder idea of reducing the number of wards.

posted by: HhE on March 18, 2012  9:19pm

This is a sticky wicket.  The City needs to save money, and we need to save what is left of our democracy.

I used to vote in Republican primaries back when independents were allowed to.  In saner times, the GOP actually cared what the center thought, rather than just the fringe.

posted by: streever on March 19, 2012  1:04am

Dweller:
Apologies for lack of clarity. I was referring to voting.

Easier voting is better, even at a cost. If we’ve done it a certain way for such a long time, I’m not sure that we should stop any time soon.

Budget problems are temporary—not permanent—so why make a permanent change that may make it less likely for people to register republican and vote?

posted by: abg22 on March 19, 2012  11:37am

While I find the GOP primary field detestable, and I don’t want to take a paid gig away from someone who needs it, I would be happy to volunteer to staff the polls for the GOP Primary to defray the cost of democracy and permit New Haven’s 2,000 GOPers to participate in choosing their party’s nominee. I have made this offer known to the registrars on multiple occasions (most recently at the ward 29 recount) and they’ve never taken me up on the offer. I guess they’re too busy complaining to the state about having to perform election audits, complaining to the state about EDR and other commonsense proposals, complaining about being asked to put information on their website about upcoming elections (nothing about the ward co-chair primaries until 24 hours before the election), and complaining to the media about having to—heaven forbid!—actually having to hold elections. My offer is still good, though.

posted by: jimoco on March 19, 2012  3:24pm

This is the type of thing that happens when one party so completely dominates the political landscape in one town.  Didn’t we just pay for workers in the wards that had primaries for Democratic Town Committee ward chairpersons? 

It only makes common sense to consolidate districts to save the city some money.  One polling place per assembly district seems to be very reasonable.  However, the Registrar of Voters office must send out notices as they do for general elections.

As for changing state statues - recently a change was approved on an “emergency certification basis” for zoning rules concerning recycling facilities.  Perhaps Sens. Looney and Harp along with the city’s representatives in the House could make a similar request for this issue as well. 

As one who has sat through several GOP primaries as a poll worker in the past with very little to do, I would certainly appreciate a more stimulating day.

posted by: downtown dweller on March 20, 2012  1:46pm

@streever—

You seem to think that it’s worth paying for people to do nothing in these polling places, on the grounds that taking away some booths would mean that people would have to walk farther to vote. But reducing the number of wards in the city would also mean making people have to walk farther to vote, assuming that you are proposing keeping only one polling place per ward. So what’s the problem with one measure and not the other?

If you would like to see fewer wards, but keep the same number of polling places as we currently have, then your suggestion isn’t relevant to the subject of this article—which is what the city should do about the fact that taxpayers’ money is being wasted on staffing unused polling places.

posted by: streever on March 20, 2012  2:53pm

Hey Dweller,

Sorry—it isn’t that simple!

The issue I see is one of access and fairness.

If we provide 30 voting places to Democrats in a primary, we should provide 30 voting places to Republicans. It simply isn’t fair to tell the 100 republicans in a ward that they have less access than the democrats.

Numbers of registered voters are changing numbers, and we can actually influence those numbers.

It simply isn’t fair to give one group more opportunities than the other. It is up to the electorate to vote or not. While few Republicans may have voted in the last election, we don’t know how many will vote this election, or how many people will register as Republicans. How could we?

Reducing the number of wards WOULD reduce the number of polling places—but, it would do so across the board, and in a consistent and fair manner, not an arbitrary one based on previous years turnout.

That is all—I don’t think you can do these things in a vacuum or in a manner that isn’t consistent.

posted by: DingDong on March 20, 2012  4:09pm

Streever: No, no, no.  This is a primary.  This is about Republicans choosing their own candidate and choosing the way they choose their own candidates.  If they wanted to choose their own candidate by drawing straws, they should be allowed to do so.  If they wanted to choose their own candidate by getting messages from aliens, they should be allowed to do so.  If they recognize the existing primary procedures are wasting tons of the City’s money for no obvious benefit, they should be allowed to change those procedures.

posted by: downtown dweller on March 20, 2012  11:15pm

@streever—

Your previous posts didn’t indicate that you were comparing Republican primary voters with Democrat ones, so I’ll respond. Your argument fails for two reasons.

First, the way that primary elections work in Connecticut is, in short, this: The state (i.e., taxpayer) funds the primary. The party chooses who can vote in it (i.e., whether the primary is open or closed). So the party already has enormous discretion over who has access to the polls in the primary: it can choose, and legitimately has chosen, to prevent most of the town from voting, as it’s opted for a closed primary. If it has this power, how can it not have the power to consolidate polling sites in a way that is efficient and cost-effective? Put another way, the party has already chosen to limit access to the polls in one way that it has deemed beneficial; why can it not do this in another way, which seems entirely sensible?

Second, you haven’t considered who is being harmed. The article says that the idea for this has come from the Republican registrar herself. If this idea was being floated by a Democrat, I might be slightly suspicious. Your concern seems to be that Republicans will be harmed, as only Republicans can vote in this primary. But Republicans evidently won’t be harmed. Their own registrar has decided that this is a change worth making, and she is obviously not going to act against the Republican Party’s interest.

DingDong is correct: if this were a general, it would be a different question. But it’s a primary, and Republicans have the power to take sensible measures to run their primary in an efficient manner.

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