Norwich to consolidate voting precincts

Norwich - The registrars of voters would like to cut the number of voting precincts from 10 to five citywide in a move that would save money and streamline operations.

Norwich's 10 voting precincts date back to the previous city government structure with 10 aldermen elected in neighborhood precincts. The system now is archaic, expensive and difficult to manage, Democratic Registrar JoAnn Merolla-Martin said.

Merolla-Martin said with municipal budget cuts, many towns either have consolidated precincts or are considering it. New London cut its voting precincts from seven to three in 2009 in a move estimated at the time to save $12,000 per year.

Norwich is divided into two state House of Representatives districts: the 46th District, which covers the southern and urban sections, and the 47th District, covering the northern area, Taftville and parts of Greeneville. The 46th District has six polling places and the 47th District has four.

Merolla-Martin and Republican Registrar Gerald Kortfelt both said they cannot yet say where the new voting precincts will be located or which would be merged. But they are considering placing three precincts in the 46th District and two in the 47th District.

Some precincts are larger than others, complicating consolidation. Voters in the first and third precincts vote at the Taftville Knights of Columbus, but combining those precincts would create one with 3,860 registered voters. Kortfelt is concerned about long lines during major elections.

Merolla-Martin said the savings could be substantial. Each precinct must have one moderator, two assistants, two checkers and one ballot clerk. The city has 22 voting machines - one main machine and a backup for each precinct - and two machines for absentee ballots. Regular maintenance costs $191 per machine.

Merolla-Martin estimated savings at $8,000 per year, except in the first year. The city would have to send letters to all voters explaining the changes and their new polling places.

Although the registrars would like to have the new system in place by the November election, she did not include the plan in her proposed budget of $48,000 for 2011-12. She presented a summary of the plan to City Manager Alan Bergren for consideration as he compiles his proposed city budget.

The consolidation would need City Council approval. Before that formal step, the registrars would speak to the Democratic and Republican town committees to explain the plan.

c.bessette@theday.com

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