Navigating the Voting System
Voting season is upon us! No doubt you’ve already been bombarded with all the flyers, phone calls, newspaper articles, and TV advertisements that greet the odd numbered years when municipal elections take place. You may be a pro at wading through the vortex of red, white, and blue that envelops us each campaign season, but have you mastered the ins and outs of the voting system? Although readying yourself for the polling booth may slip your mind as you juggle the various pros and cons of choosing one candidate over another, exercising your right to vote can be a confusing task and you should ensure you’re adequately prepared for it well in advance. Hopefully this brief guide will clarify common questions for first-time voters or help more seasoned voters brush up on any details that may have slipped your mind since the last election.
When to Vote
First things first: when do elections take place? Answering this question depends on the type of position being filled. Elections take place each year, but the types of elections (municipal, state, federal) are staggered.
The upcoming Election Day takes place on Tuesday, November 3, with voting open from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. This is a municipal (or city) election for positions including mayor, city clerk, board of aldermen, board of education (each two-year terms) planning and zoning (four-year term), and constable. These positions are elected in odd numbered years. Municipal elections in even numbered years include judge of probate (four-year term), and registrars of voters (two-year term). Certain state and federal elections are held in even numbered years. Presidential elections occur in even numbered years that are divisible by 4, so the next one will take place in November of 2016.
Where to Vote
All registered voters are assigned to specific polling locations where they may cast their ballots. If you aren’t sure where your polling place is, the Secretary of State’s Office has provided Connecticut residents with the Voter Lookup System, an online tool for you to check your official polling location: http://www.dir.ct.gov/sots/LookUp.aspx.
Please note that some individuals vote in a different polling location depending on whether the election is municipal or state/federal, so you may not always vote in the same place. You should also be aware that your polling location is determined by district, not proximity. The 2010 Census divided Milford into districts and you are assigned a polling location based on the district in which you reside. So even if you live relatively close to a polling location, it may not be your designated place to vote
If you haven’t voted in a while, be aware that the 2010 Census may have slightly altered the districts, so double check that your polling location remains the same as the last time you voted. The Voter Lookup System is very easy to use and can clear up any confusion you may have about where to vote.
If you are unable to appear in person at the election (valid excuses include absence from the town during the time of the election, illness, and physical disability), you can apply for an absentee ballot through the City Clerk’s Office and still exercise your right to vote.
Registering to Vote
Registering to vote is an occasionally overlooked American rite of passage. If you’re 18 years or older and haven’t registered to vote yet, don’t worry: the process is very simple. There are two options for registering: online or on paper. If you’re environmentally conscious and would prefer to go the paperless route, you can visit the voterregistration.ct.gov and follow the instructions. This option requires a signature on file with the CT Department of Motor Vehicles, a current valid driver’s license/or learner’s permit or non-driver photo ID card issued by the DMV.
If you’d prefer the old-school paper process, you can obtain a voter registration card by calling the Registrar of Voters’ office at 203-783-3240. Fill out the card, mail it back to 70 West River Street in Milford and you’re good to go! If you have changed your name, would like to change your party affiliation, have moved to another part of Milford, or have moved to another part of Connecticut, you can also use the aforementioned website or voter registration card to update this information. The last day to register to vote before the election is October 27. You must appear in person at the Registrar of Voters between 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. If you wait until Election Day you’ll have to go to the Registrar of Voters’ office to register before visiting your polling location to cast your ballot. Although Election Day registration is an option, for optimal ease of voting you should try to register well in advance.
In-Person Voter ID Requirements
You cannot show up at the polling booths empty-handed; you must be prepared with an approved form of identification on your person. If you are on the Active Registry List, you can bring either your social security card or a valid form of ID displaying your name in addition to your address OR signature OR photograph. The process is a little different if you are a first-time voter who registered by mail after January 1, 2003: you must have either an ID showing your name AND address AND photograph or present a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or government document that shows your name AND address. If for some reason you are unable to produce either of these requirements as a first-time voter, you may be able to cast a provisional ballot. This means that if you believe you can legally vote, you can cast a ballot and it will be either rejected or accepted at a later date after your eligibility has been inspected.
Now Go Vote!
If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to call the Milford Registrar of Voters at 203.783.3240. Remember that just because municipal elections are local, doesn’t mean they’re insignificant: the people you vote to elect will be working to solve the day-to-day issues facing Milford. That means that they can affect your life on a daily basis. Young or old, your vote is essential. According to Kerri Rowland, a Registrar of Voters responsible for voter education, “Every vote counts. We find that the closest races happen in municipal years. We’ve seen races determined by just one vote.” Be a responsible citizen by exercising the right to vote and making an informed decision in what could very well be a tight race tipped by your vote alone. You’ll make Uncle Sam proud!