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New London - Members of the City Council's Public Welfare Committee on Wednesday evening unanimously approved a proposal to expand the number of voting districts in the city from three to six.
"When I was a candidate for council and I was out walking around our neighborhoods doing my campaign, I saw that we needed this," Councilor and committee Chairman Efrain Dominguez said.
He said the goal of the redistricting is to make it easier for all voters to participate on Election Day.
"The focus of this is really about getting people out to vote and making it more accessible for people to get to the voting locations," he said.
Dominguez said that while he was campaigning for City Council last fall, a lot of people asked whether transportation to the polls was available. But if voting districts were smaller and polling places were more centrally located, it would be easier for people to walk to them, he said.
Under Dominguez's plan, the current District 1, the city's largest - stretching from its northern boarder to downtown - would be split into three separate districts. The current District 2, which encompasses the center of the city, would be split into two districts. The borders of the current District 3, which includes the southern most end of the city, would remain as they are, but the district would be renamed District 6.
Making districts 1 and 2 smaller would ensure "that anywhere you live in New London, you would have a polling station within walking distance of your residence," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said.
Councilors Erica Richardson and Anthony Nolan, who along with Dominguez comprise the Public Welfare Committee, also voiced support for redistricting.
"I feel like this is fairness for all," Richardson said. "It's everyone having their voice and their opportunity to vote."
Three citizens attended Wednesday's meeting and expressed opposition to the proposal, saying that it would cost too much, and alleging that it is a ploy by the City Council and the administration to avoid a referendum on the city budget.
The resolution includes a provision that any referendums pending or proposed before Oct. 1 would be placed on the ballot for the November election.
A referendum petition against the council's authorization of bonding $1.1 million is pending before the council, and a petition seeking a referendum on the city budget has been circulated in the city in recent weeks.
"By putting these on the November ballot, the monies that were budgeted by Council for a potential special referendum election would then be saved and could be redirected towards this expanded polling location and voting district initiative," Finizio said.
Democratic Registrar of Voters William Giesing said he did not have a hand in crafting the resolution and said he would not support it.
"New London is a 6-square-mile city and they basically want to bring it down to one polling place per square mile," he said. "That just doesn't make sense."
In 2009, the city consolidated its voting districts from seven down to the current three. At the time, the move was described as a cost-cutting measure that would save the city about $12,000 per year.
Although voter turnout fluctuates based on the gravity of the election, turnout has "stayed about the same" since the city changed to three districts, Giesing said.
The redistricting plan would be paid for, in part, by a transfer in the 2014-15 budget of $15,000 from the mayor's office budget and from special events line items to the registrar's budget.
Giesing estimated that each election would cost $18,000 to $20,000 more if the city expanded the number of voting districts.
The issue now goes before the full City Council at its meeting Monday night.