DANBURY – Voters can certainly be excused for having some apprehension about election day in a year where few things have been the same.
But the last thing election workers want is for those uncertainties over what to expect on Nov. 3 to keep voters away from polling places.
“We’ve worried that all the discussion about what could go wrong (on Election Day) could be a source of voter suppression where people would feel, ‘Why should we bother?’” said Carol Reimers, president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut. “Our message is we have lots of great people who are working very hard to make sure your vote gets counted.”
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton agrees, even as new cases of coronavirus continue to climb at concerning rates across the region.
“I feel confident that things will go off smoothly,” Boughton said last week, as candidates for congress and the state legislature faced their final weekend of campaigning. “2020 can’t end soon enough I think that we will get through the election as we do every year in our country.”
Among the concerns that have been raised about Election Day in a year marked by a politicized pandemic and divided sides over racial injustice and police reform is whether poll watchers will chill the atmosphere for voters.
“Under the statute you’re allowed to have somebody inside the polling location looking over the shoulder of person who is checking-in people, but you have to submit a list of names in advance,” said Boughton, adding that as of the end of last week, no one had submitted names to City Hall to watch polls. “You can’t just show up to disrupt the voting.”
Boughton and other veteran leaders in greater Danbury say the thousands of absentee ballots that have already been received means fewer registered voters will be in line on Tuesday to cast ballots in person.
In Ridgefield, for example, 6,200 out of 7,000 absentee ballots have already been received at Town Hall, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.
Not only does more absentee ballots mean fewer voters in line, but the ballot itself is relatively uncomplicated. Voters will see on the ballot a choice for president and vice president, for a congressional seat representing either the 5th District or the 4th District, and for a handful of state legislature races.
“It’s a very short ballot, and so if voters have made their minds up by the time they enter the voting booth, it should go pretty quickly,” Marconi said.
One exception is in Newtown, where voters will consider a proposition to allow housing as part of a commercial redevelopment in no more than two of the empty former psychiatric hospital buildings on the Fairfield Hills campus.
The mail-in voting and the uncomplicated ballot doesn’t mean there won’t be lines, observers said. On any given presidential election year, officials see turnouts of 80-to-90 percent of registered voters.
This year, with social distancing in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the lines may be more noticeable than usual.
“We’ve been told to expect long lines,” said J.C. Barone, a professor of communication and media arts at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. “It may not be a bad idea to bring a bag lunch and some water, because it may take some time.”
Boughton, a Republican, and Marconi, a Democrat each said their fervent hope was for all voters to wear masks.
Reimers from the League of Women Voters said that with all the preparation that has gone into making election day as normal as possible during a national crisis, voters should take heart that they are part of something larger.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a perfect election on Tuesday because we’ve had to adapt to a whole new system in Connecticut with all these absentee ballots,” Reimers said. “But I think people overall can feel upbeat about the fact that this tradition in November is carrying on, even if it’s in a slightly different way.”