Registrars predict voter turnout to be up in some towns, down in others Tuesday

Municipal elections typically do not garner the turnout of presidential or even gubernatorial races, but some registrars are at least hoping that turnout this year will be higher than the average municipal turnout, due to contested mayoral and first selectman races.

In Norwich, Republican Registrar Dianne Slopak said the city had a turnout of about 40 percent in the 2013 mayoral election and she is hoping for the same or higher this year. She said this would be twice what is typical of a non-mayoral election.

"We are hoping for a good turnout, with the interest in the mayoral race, and the sheer number of candidates running for City Council and Board of Ed will give us a boost," Democratic Registrar of Voters Dianne Daniels said.

Norwich has seen a surge in voter registrations in the past year, including the big flurry in the week prior to the 2016 election, city registrars said. Norwich now has 18,131 total registered voters, up from 13,766 in early November 2016.

According to data from the Secretary of the State's office, Montville saw an 18.75 percent increase in the number of active registered voters between the last municipal election and now, the largest jump in southeastern Connecticut. Norwich was the second-largest, at 17.6 percent.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said elections seem fairly quiet this year.

"I think the most interesting thing about this year is the number of new people who are running, and we'll see if they win," she said, citing newcomers on planning and zoning boards, boards of education and even town councils. Merrill also noted that a lot of women are running for office for the first time.

She said statewide turnout is typically 25-30 percent, but "in some ways that's a meaningless figure," because turnout can range from single digits to 50 percent based on issues in individual towns.

In the past year or so, 100,000 people have registered to vote through the online voter registration system at the state Department of Motor Vehicles, Merrill said. This has brought Connecticut to an all-time high of nearly 2.2 million registered voters.

In Groton, Democratic Registrar of Voters Paul Duarte said that while turnout for presidential elections gets up to 80 percent, the last four municipal elections have averaged around 30 percent.

He thinks turnout may be down this year, compared to other municipal elections, considering there aren't any charter revision questions or other referenda.

New London Democratic Registrar of Voters Bill Giesing said he expected about 20 percent voter turnout, or about 3,000 of the 15,794 registered voters casting ballots.

There were 123 absentee ballots cast as of Monday. The absentee ballot count is one way to gauge voters' interest, Giesing said.

In Lyme, Democratic Registrar of Voters Diane Ahlberg said the town has already received 60 to 70 absentee ballots for the election, compared to two in the town's uncontested 2015 municipal election.

"I think there is going to be a good number," she said of turnout. "We're planning on being busy."

Lyme will have a contested first selectman's race for the first time in 16 years.

In East Lyme, Democratic Registrar of Voters Barbara McGrath said she anticipates voter turnout will likely be similar to the last municipal election in 2015, when there was a contested first selectman race and voter turnout was 42 percent.

By comparison, voter turnout was about 30 percent in the municipal election of 2013, when the first selectman race was uncontested. Paul Formica, who was at the time the town's incumbent first selectman, ran unopposed.

Since August, 127 new people have registered to vote in East Lyme, a town with 12,371 registered voters in total, which McGrath thinks is mostly attributable to people moving to town.

Christine Kutz, the Democratic registrar of voters in Montville, said she anticipates a turnout of between 25 and 30 percent, and that 150 people have registered to vote in the last three months.

Salem Democratic Registrar of Voters Betsy Butts said there have been very few new voter registrations this year, but she is hoping for a decent turnout.

Ledyard Registrar of Voters Hazel Gorman said the town has gotten 893 new voter registrations since last year. She and fellow Registrar Nancy Lozier are projecting 22 to 23 percent turnout.

Describing the North Stonington first selectman's race as an "interesting election," Republican candidate Asa Palmer expressed optimism about turnout, saying, "I think a lot of people seem to think there's going to be high turnout. It won't be below average."

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