New Haven’s Democratic registrar of voters promised to have more poll workers and more signage on the next Election Day with a $20,000 bump in her budget.
But first she’ll have to figure out why she’s sitting on a projected surplus of more than $200,000.
The Democratic registrar, Shannel Evans, with Republican Registrar Delores Knight in tow, made a pitch to alders Thursday night during the first round of departmental hearings at City Hall on the Harp Administration’s proposed $554.5 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The proposal includes for $891,565 for the registrars office, just $20,000 more than Evans’ current budget. (The Democratic registrar office is the de facto head of the office in New Haven.)
The biggest change to the mayor’s proposed budget for her office involves reducing the “other contractual services” line item from a high of $378,000 to $198,000, thus freeing up $180,000. The office’s budget then calls for setting aside $200,000 for hiring additional poll workers for this year’s coming municipal primary and general elections.
After last November’s presidential election featured long lines, two-to-three hour waits and confusion at polling places in New Haven, Evans appeared to have won over alders Thursday night with plans to provide more signage, increase hiring and training of poll workers and possibly make some changes at polling places.
But alders were skeptical that her budget would be enough to achieve a smoother election process.
“It sounds like to me that you want to beef up the staffing at polling places on Election Day,” Westville Alder Adam Marchand said. “Are there other expenditures you’re going to do without in order to beef up the Election Day temporary hiring?”
Evans said she’s allowed to move money where it’s needed most . Other than changing the companies that create the office’s postcards, all other expenses remain the same, she said.
“I think it makes sense to beef up temporarily hiring people because we want to facilitate a smooth flow in all of our voting,” he said. “I’m wondering if a net change for that increased hiring is enough. This coming year we have a primary in September, a general election in November, ward committee races—we want to make sure the investments you’re proposing that that incremental increase of $20,000 would cover it.”
Evans said she believed that it would.
East Rock Alder Anna Festa thanked Evans for addressing the problems of the last election and showing some initiative in addressing signage, but she pressed Evans: Are you truly confident in your budget numbers?
“Yes,” Evans replied.
Annex Alder Alphonse Paolillo Jr. pointed out that in city Budget Director Joe Clerkin’s most recent monthly financial report, which shows the state of the current budget through Jan. 31, 2017, the Registrar of Voters Office has a projected surplus of $204,731. He said that seemed odd considering that the city just came off a major election, which Evans said typically costs more than municipal elections.
“You under-spent your budget, or maybe we over-budgeted,” Paolillo said. “Can you talk to us about the budget items you have and where we’ve under spent, or where you’re having those areas of surplus?’
Evans said she didn’t have the information readily available but promised she would get it. Paolillo offered to work with the office to comb thorough how much was spent on poll workers during the last election and analyze what the numbers were versus what they could be this year. Clerkin said he also would have to look more closely at the office’s budget to determine how it arrived at a projected surplus.
“We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to make sure that we get elections right but also that we appropriate the budget as well,” Paolillo said. “There are responsibilities on both sides.”
Paolillo also asked if the increase in the budget could be used to fund a study. Evans said it could, and then clarified her response to say that it would. She said she was interested in hiring a consultant to help the office determine what it might do to have smoother election process.
When Paolillo asked her for details about the possible scope of the work—would it focus on pre-election activities, Election Day or post election? or target the functionality of the office?—Evans offered to create a draft for which alders could provide input.
“We’d definitely like to see that,” he said. “At the end of day we are all for efficient operations. This is a city wide issue. We want to staff you and fund you appropriately.”
That said, Paolillo did as his colleagues before him, pressing Evans about her confidence in her budget proposal and whether she had\s enough money to operate the upcoming election cycle.
“Do you feel confident with that appropriation?” he said.
“Yes,” Evans replied.
To which Paolillo replied, “I want to work with you and look at where you are with your budget right now and kind of figure out the numbers that make sense for your office for all of our voters, for our election process but also for all of our taxpayers as well, OK?”