Stamford voter registration surges, registrar warns of double-sided ballot
STAMFORD — In the registrars’ office, the phones are ringing.
People are calling to find out how they can register to vote on Nov. 6.
“We have a record number of new voters — 69,508,” Democratic Registrar Ron Malloy said. “It will be more than that by Election Day.”
For perspective, the number of registered voters for the 2016 presidential election was 67,183. Historically, more voters come out for presidential elections, yet this year already has 2,325 more voters than 2016.
And that’s just so far.
In the clerk’s office, requests for absentee ballots are pouring in.
So far, 1,036 have been returned, City and Town Clerk Lyda Ruijter said. More than twice that number — 2,093 — have been requested.
“We don’t know how many we will issue between now and Nov. 2, and how many will be returned,” Ruijter said.
By last year’s Election Day, 898 absentee ballots were returned, she said. This year has surpassed that by 138 ballots, and that’s with more than 1,000 ballots still out there and several more days for voters to request them.
The spike in voter interest is nationwide, despite the usual drop in years when there is no presidential election. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, turnout in states with early voting is at its highest for any midterm election in more than 20 years.
All the more reason to alert Stamford voters to something different about this year’s ballot, Malloy said.
You have to fill out both sides.
“Some other towns have had double-sided ballots recently, but I can’t remember the last time Stamford had one,” Malloy said. “I’m concerned that, because most people in Stamford have not seen double-sided ballots, they will vote for governor and whatever else is on the front side and not be aware that they have to turn it over.”
The main reason is that Connecticut voters this year are being asked to choose whether the state constitution should be changed in two ways — one to secure a fund that’s supposed to be spent on infrastructure and another to protect public lands.
First, voters must decide whether the constitution should be amended to ensure that all money in the Special Transportation Fund be used solely for projects to improve roads, rails, bridges, buses and other forms of public transit. It’s known as the “lockbox” measure because Connecticut has a long history of raiding the fund and using the money on things that have nothing to do with transportation.
Second, Connecticut voters must decide whether to amend the constitution to require a public hearing before any state land is sold, swapped or given away; to require special legislation to authorize a transfer of state land; and to require that at least two-thirds of the General Assembly approve any transfer of land owned by the Department of Agriculture or Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which includes state parks.
The two questions take up a chunk of the front page of the ballot. The rest of it has the boxes containing the names of candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, U.S. representative, state senator, state representative, and secretary of the state.
The back page of the ballot has the boxes containing the names of candidates for state treasurer, state comptroller, state attorney general, probate judge, and Stamford Board of Education.
“I called the registrars in Norwalk and Greenwich, where they’ve had two-sided ballots. I told them Stamford has always been able to fit all the candidates on one page, and I asked what they do to make sure voters know there is a second page,” Malloy said. “They told me they put up signs in the polling places. We will do that, and we are meeting with the moderators to emphasize that they have to tell voters when they check in at the polling places.”
Malloy said he is concerned “people will vote for governor and whatever else is on the front side, and not be aware they have to turn it over.”
Voters can’t count on the ballot readers to alert them, he said. The reader will not spit back a ballot that has no markings on one side.
But the reader can scan both sides at the same time, so voters only place it in the reader once.
The number of new voters has been a bit of a surprise, Malloy said. People are visiting the registrars’ office at the Stamford Government Center, registering online at voterregistration.ct.gov, and registering through the Department of Motor Vehicles when they renew licenses and registrations.
Online registration ends at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Malloy said. In-person registration in the registrars’ office ends at 4 p.m. the same day.
But state law allows new voters to register at the registrars’ office between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Nov. 6 so they can cast a ballot on Election Day, Malloy said.
Malloy said he does not yet have data on how the new voters break down by party.
“Are people energized? Yes,” he said. “But which way, I don’t know.”