Election Day registration ready to roll

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Jamie Litvaitis votes at Maple Hill Elementary School in Naugatuck in November 2012. This year people who haven’t registered to vote can do so on Election Day.  –RA ARCHIVE
Jamie Litvaitis votes at Maple Hill Elementary School in Naugatuck in November 2012. This year people who haven’t registered to vote can do so on Election Day. –RA ARCHIVE

Eligible residents will have the ability to register to vote on Election Day this year for the first time in Connecticut.

Connecticut last year became the 11th state to enact Election Day registration. Election Day this year is Nov. 5.

Registration for Beacon Falls and Prospect residents will take place at the registrars of voters offices in each town’s respective town halls. Residents looking to register in Naugatuck can do so at the Naugatuck Senior Center, 300 Meadow St.

“What they’ll do is if they haven’t registered they’ll come into our office on Election Day and they will be given ballot,” said Kathy Grace, the Democratic registrar of voters for Beacon Fall. “The ballot will be hand counted later on in the day.”

Naugatuck Republican Registrar of Voters Janice Dambowksy said the borough can’t use Town Hall because there are candidates on the ballot who are less than 75 feet away from the registrars of voters office.

Eligible residents will be able to register to vote on Election Day from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m., the same time that the polls are open. The only difference between voting and registration is that 8 p.m. is the actual cut off time for registration.

Dambowsky said as long as people are in line at the polls by 8 p.m., they will still have a chance to vote.

“The only difference is at the 8 p.m. mark if you haven’t finished your registration it is still done,” Dambowsky said.

Secretary of the State spokesman Av Harris said studies have shown that voter turnout is 9 percent to 10 percent higher in states that have Election Day registration than those that do not.

Connecticut lawmakers over the years have attempted several times to make Election Day registration law. Most Democrats have wanted Election Day registration and most Republicans have not.

One Republican, state Sen. Michael McLachlan of Danbury, said he has voted against Election Day registration several times. He said the state does not have the security and technology systems to handle the additional registrations.

He said it takes on average 10 minutes to register each applicant and verify their identification and their address. He said an average of 20,000 voters hit the polls in Danbury and 10 percent of that is 2,000. If it takes 10 minutes to process each one of those 2,000 applicants, the result is “a complete and utter nightmare.”

However, Grace, Dambowsky and Prospect Democratic Registrar of Voters Katie Blinstrubas are not worried about the impact from the change this year.

“We’re not expecting a big crowd this year. That being said we’re going to prepare for a big crowd,” Blinstrubas said.

During the 2009 municipal elections Prospect had 2,648 people turn out to vote and in 2011 2,637 people voted.

Beacon Falls had 1,767 people turn out to vote in 2009. In 2011, 1,971 people voted.

Naugatuck saw 6,182 people vote in 2009, but only 3,343 people vote in 2011 when Mayor Robert Mezzo ran unopposed.

“We’re not anticipating we’ll get too many requests,” Dambowsky said. “It’s going to be a learning curve. This election, we’re not going to see as much, but the presidential election … we’ll be getting ready for that.”

Dambowsky said there might be some wait time for people who want to register on the same day as they are voting, especially if they are already registered in another town.

 “They have to fill out the registration and we have to check to see if they are registered somewhere else,” Dambowsky said. “Then we check with that town’s registrar to see if they voted.”

Dambowsky said after the call has been placed to another town they can wait five minutes before letting the person vote. If they haven’t heard back from the other town in five minutes, the person is allowed to cast their ballot. All ballots cast by people who have registered on the same day will be kept in a separate pile and hand counted at the end of election night. This allows the registrars to pull the ballot if it is found that someone has already voted in another town.

Grace said she didn’t think someone would try to vote in two towns. She pointed to the fact that the registrars have state records of where people are currently registered and check in with those towns.

“I don’t anticipate voter fraud. It’s extremely rare,” Grace said. “There are a lot of checks and balances. I think most people are honest and take their voting responsibility seriously.”

Regardless of how many people come to register on Election Day towns will have to have more people working.

“We have to do different scheduling. We have to schedule a couple more people,” Blinstrubas said. “I have to be in the office here all day, so I have to hire someone.”

Dambowksy said Naugatuck will have to staff a moderator, assistant registrar of voters from each party and a clerk to run the registration on Election Day.

Regardless of how difficult Election Day registration may turn out to be for the registrars, Grace said this change is a good thing for the residents of Connecticut.

“It’s not up for us to judge whether people can vote or not. People are very busy and leading very busy lives, raising children, taking care of elderly parents,” Grace said. “This is good so they won’t lose their right to vote, because it is a right. It’s not a privilege, it’s a right.”

The Republican American contributed to this article.