After an exhausting presidential race, followed by a year of political gridlock in both Washington and Hartford, statewide municipal voting arrives today, and features heated races in several communities, including Farmington, Bloomfield, New Britain and Bristol.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the state’s 2.1 million active registered voters to cast their ballots. According to the office of the Secretary of the State, there are about 770,000 registered Democratic voters and 450,000 registered Republican voters.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said that turnout for municipal elections is typically low — about 30 percent — but that this year could be different.
“There’s a lot of energy out there … since the presidential election,” she said. “People seem very energized. We’ll see if that translates into the local elections.”
In addition to regular election preparations, Merrill met recently with representatives of the Department of Homeland Security. Connecticut was among 21 states where Russian hackers attempted to penetrate election systems last year.
“We now have contacts … if we are hacked or there’s some attempt made to enter our voter registration list, as apparently was the case in 2016,” Merrill said, though she doubted meddling would occur in a municipal year.
In the Hartford area, one of the hottest contests is the race for control of the Farmington Town Council. Earlier this year, a proposed $135 million high school renovation project was rejected by voters and served as the platform that launched a major rivalry among town Republicans. Now, the outsider Republicans who successfully challenged the endorsed slate put forth by the Republican town committee are running against a slate of political newcomers endorsed by the Democratic town committee.
In nearby New Britain, Republicans, led by Mayor Erin Stewart, are trying retain a 12-3 supermajority on the common council. Stewart says that the city is on the upswing, citing the makeover of Central Park, the approaching remodel of the Beehive Bridge and the recent groundbreaking for the $58 million Columbus Commons mixed-use development. Merrill Gay, a Democratic school board member, is challenging Stewart, saying that grand list growth is sluggish and that downtown redevelopment hasn’t improved during Stewart’s four years in office.
The race in Bloomfield also has its origins in an intense local issue — the controversial Niagara water bottling plant — that led a group of political newcomers to form a Democratic challenge slate. The group ousted the endorsed slate of Democratic incumbents, who had supported construction of the plant, in a September primary landslide.
The race for the 3rd District Probate Court pits longtime Democratic state Rep. David Baram, who represents Bloomfield and Windsor, against political newcomer Randall Bowers, a Republican from Bloomfield. The winner will fill the seat vacated in August by Judge Steve Zelman. If Baram becomes judge of probate, a special election for his seat at the legislature will likely be held in early February.
In Bristol’s mayoral race, Democrat Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is challenging Republican incumbent Ken Cockayne again after narrowly losing two years ago. Cockayne has been censured by the city council twice, most recently after councilors concluded last month that he was guilty of sexual harassment and dishonesty. Cockayne’s Republican supporters say he deserves a third term because his administration has built the tax base, attracted several new businesses, reduced local crime and gotten the long-stalled Centre Square development under way. Zoppo-Sassu said the city doesn’t tell taxpayers nearly enough information about its economic development grants and does a poor job of keeping businesses in Bristol. The city council is currently split 3-3.
In West Hartford, the race for the town council has included pointed debate about property taxes, state aid, and the future of the former UConn campus. Democrats look to maintain control of the West Hartford town council and school board. The majority party winner will nominate a mayor and deputy mayor, and the full council will vote to appoint those councilors to those positions. Meanwhile, in Glastonbury, Republicans are looking to keep their supermajority lock on both the town council and board of education. Since 2003, Republicans have enjoyed a 6-3 majority on the town council and 5-3 advantage on the board of education. Glastonbury voters will also see a referendum question asking for $3 million to authorize a purchase of open space and to preserve land.
Democrats in Wethersfield want to hold onto their two-year majority on the town council. They have proposed sharing services with the board of education and attracting new business to the Silas Deane Highway. Republicans have emphasized reduced spending and decreasing borrowing to fund town projects. A third slate, led by Independence Party chair Paul Copp and former deputy mayor John Console, will also be on the ballot.
The Democratic majority in Rocky Hill is hoping to keep Mayor Claudia Baio at the helm, but other two parties have risen to challenge the sitting mayor. Republicans have nominated a local attorney Lisa Marotta, who was campaign chair for Stay Invested, a political action committee created to support a school referendum last November. Henry Vasel, a current councilman, is running for mayor with a party called Unite Rocky Hill that targets independent voters.
Potential voters who are not yet registered can go the the Election Day Registration site in their town to learn more. Voters who register on Election Day must be registered by 8 p.m. in order to vote.
Merrill said real-time election results will be available on the secretary of the state’s website. More information is available online at myvote.ct.gov.