‘A nightmare for the voters’: New Milford redistricting plan could lead to a much longer drive to cast ballots

Spectrum/Roger Sherman Town Hall on Main Street in New Milford. For budget insert march 30, 2018.

Spectrum/Roger Sherman Town Hall on Main Street in New Milford. For budget insert march 30, 2018.

Deborah Rose / Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW MILFORD — Due to statewide redistricting, hundreds of residents may soon have to travel up to 13 miles, or over 30 minutes, to vote, said John Gaiser, the town’s Republican registrar of voters.

The new redistricting plan pertains to state law, which requires congressional and legislative district lines be redrawn every 10 years.

At Monday’s Town Council meeting, Marcel Grenier, the Democratic registrar, said that in the past, all of Gaylordsville and part of New Milford voted in District 4, which is at the Gaylordsville Fire Department on Kent Road.

However, due to the new redistricting plan, part of that area would no longer be able to do so.

There is now a new voting district in town — District 8, which was formed from portions of Districts 7, 2 and 1.

“Everything west of the Housatonic River, down to the Rocky River (Hydro-Electric) Plant, and then from there it follows Candlewood Lake to the end, is now the 108th New Milford House District,” Gaiser said. “We had to add an eighth (voting) district in town because we now have taken on a portion of the 69th House District.”

The town is considering a voting place for District 8 at Walnut Hill Community Church on Dorwin Hill Road.

Gaiser estimates 600 to 700 people are going to be affected by the redistricting change, which would take effect at the first general election, in November.

“Our biggest issue is the distance the people up in the northwest corner of the town have to travel. The polling place for District 3 is in the Odd Fellows Hall on Route 7, on Danbury Road. According to the state, we can still use that, which is fine for the state but it’s not fine for the voters in that district,” Gaiser said. “When people start traveling 11, 12, 13 miles to come and vote, I think it’s just outrageous. It’s a nightmare for the voters.”

As a test, Gaiser and Grenier recently took a drive to see how long it would take to get to Odd Fellows.

“From going down Route 7 from the bridge near the firehouse, it was about a half an hour,” Gaiser said.

“Traveling Route 7 can be stressful and inconvenient due to traffic or accidents,” he added. Weather may also play a factor in travel time.

Many seniors live in the Gaylordsville area, Grenier said.

“I think that’s egregious, I think it’s a joke,” New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said, in regard to the drive time. “And I think it’s wrong.”

Town Council member Katy Francis said if the state committee overseeing legislative redistricting wanted to even out the district size, “if they’d asked, our registrars could potentially have found a way to give the area that they wanted without impacting the districts that way, so that we wouldn’t have people traveling miles and miles and miles to get to a polling place.”

Grenier also said the state officials should have let the registers or the towns have input when making the decision as to how to redistrict. Yet, no town official was consulted on the change, they said.

Letter, petition

Gaiser is trying to get state oficials to give the town permission to redraw the district lines.

At the Monday meeting, council members unanimously approved to authorize Town Council members and Bass to write a letter to the legislature, governor and Secretary of State Denise Merrill to talk about their “displeasure” of the redistricting and how it’s going to affect our residents, “especially in Gaylordsville,” Bass said.

On Tuesday, Francis also suggested residents create a petition to send to Merrill on their own.

“If we can get a bunch of people to say something to the state office that oversees it, is one way to at least get some attention,” she said.

To encourage voting, in past years, the political parties in town have offered free rides to those who are unable to drive. This practice will most likely be continued, Francis said.

Additionally, residents can contact the town clerk to see if they meet the requirements for submitting an absentee ballot.

Francis said she’s remaining hopeful that residents can make a difference.

“Let’s see if the power of the people can affect some change here. I’m a believer in that. If something’s not going right, make a call, write a letter, send an email. Let’s see if it works.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com 203-948-9802