Clayton Town Council will discuss extending voting hours by one hour at the Monday, Aug. 12 meeting. The recommendation to add an extra hour stems from a July 31 Election Committee meeting.
At the committee meeting, members discussed whether or not hours should be extended. The recommendation came from resident Howard Blackstone following this year's election in which only 248 residents voted.
Al Hill said research of voter polling information for all the towns in the state shows quite a bit of towns – six – allow voting for at least six hours in a town election. Clayton currently has polling hours from 2 to 7 p.m. on election day. Changing polling hours would require a change to the charter.
Nine towns in the state keep the polls open for eight hours. Five towns keep polls open for seven hours. Six towns keep polls at six hours. Three towns – including Clayton – hold voting for five hours. Ten towns keep polls open for less than five hours. The state has 10 towns that have polls open for more than eight hours.
"For the old days, 2 to 7 was a good amount of allotted time for voting," Hill said. "But now we have a changing population. We do have people that work 9 to 5, 9 to 6 and having to get back before 7 p.m. is difficult."
Voter turnout has been an issue for the last several years there's been an election in town. There were 140 voters in 2008, 215 in 2009, 218 in 2010, 324 in 2012, and 248 this year. There was no town election in 2011.
The committee discussed absentee ballots as some members were confused about the process. When they realized absentee ballots can be requested over the phone, filled out, notarized and mailed back, some members felt the use of absentee ballots could address the lack of voting by town residents.
Committee member Alex Dias said he's used an absentee ballot in the past to cast his vote when he was out of town.
"I know it works," Dias said. "I've done it twice."
However, residents in the town haven't necessarily taken advantage of their ability to vote through absentee ballots. Dias said there were 5 votes by absentee ballot in 2008, 12 in 2009, 6 in 2010, 10 in 2012, and 11 this year.
Still Committee Chair Howard Blackstone suggested increasing voting hours by one hour.
Committee member Tom Horn said it would take a lot of work and town money just to increase polling by one hour, and said if he had friends that commuted to work he would suggest they fill out an absentee ballot instead of rushing home to vote.
"If people want to vote and want to vote bad enough, they will," said Councilwoman Mary Ellen DeBenedictis. "I do because if I don't, I have no right to complain."
Blackstone still insisted on increasing voting hours and eventually made a motion to send a recommendation to council to extend polling to 2 to 8 p.m. on election day. The committee passed the motion; council will vote on the item at the Monday, Aug. 12 council meeting.
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