Secretary of the State Denise Merrill votes Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

It’s time to head to the polls. Today is Election Day in hundreds of communities. 

From town council to mayor to first selectman and board of education a number of races will be on the ballot. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

The Secretary of the State’s office has a website to help you find your polling place. There’s also an opportunity to see a sample ballot from your city or town. And Connecticut has Election Day Registration so if you’re not registered to vote you can do that and vote at a central location in town. 

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill cast a ballot Tuesday morning in Hartford. She told reporters turnout was expected to be lower than last year’s election, when high-profile races including a contentious presidential election drove voters to the polls in record numbers.  

Merrill urged residents to make time to cast a ballot in their local contests. 

“To me they’re the most important elections, especially if you care about your schools, your roads, your town,” she said. “In Connecticut we don’t have counties, we vote by town so you really do have an influence and your vote really matters.” 

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill votes in Hartford Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Voter turnout is expected to vary by municipality, with stronger participation in towns in cities with closely-watched mayoral and selectmen races.

One is the race between Rep. Caroline Simmons and former baseball manager Bobby Valentine in Stamford. Valentine is running as an unaffiliated candidate and the rhetoric between the two has been contentious. 

Both have wanted to focus on the issues, but the difference in their ages has made headlines. 

Valentine referred to Simmons, a 35 year old mother of two, as a “girl” who could not “possibly relate to the diverse culture of Stamford, Connecticut, better than I do.” The comment was made several weeks ago in an Associated Press article. 

“It’s not an issue of age, it’s an issue of experience, what people understand that I’ve done. I’ve been a small business owner in my hometown for over 40 years. I’ve managed people all around the world,” Valentine, 71, said Monday. 

Simmons said “I think my opponent’s language has been really offensive and divisive.”

The voters will get to decide who they want to run Stamford which is now Connecticut’s second largest city surpassing New Haven in the latest Census. 

Hamden will also be choosing a new mayor. Democrat Lauren Garrett, who defeated three-term incumbent Curt Leng in a September primary, faces Republican Ron Gambardella and write-in candidate Al Lotto in the mayor’s race. 

In New Haven, Mayor Justin Elicker faces John Carlson, the first Republican to run for mayor in that city in 14 years. 

In New Britain, four-term incumbent Republican Mayor Erin Stewart faces a challenge from Democratic state Rep. Bobby Sanchez. 

“It’s one thing about all these municipal elections or town elections. it’s about your town and it’s not necessarily about the party, it’s about the person,” Stewart said. 

Sanchez says he’s the toughest competition Stewart has faced in years. 

“I was born here. I went to school here. I know everything about New Britain. I’m double her age. So I know a lot about New Britain,” Sanchez said. 

The issue in that city is over how much money the city spends on education. 

“We have done our part as legislators up there at the state,” Sanchez said. “The New Britain Democratic delegation has done their part to bring in the additional dollars, but the city has not done their part.”

Stewart said she is limited in what she can do. 

“In any town the mayor is severely limited with the control that they have over the board of education and how school districts spend the money that they get. Most people understand that and draw that distinction,” she added. 

The top job in 23 towns is open, in some cases, for the first time in decades. Open seats can often change which party controls the town’s leadership, which makes them all well worth watching.

The highest-profile open seat race this year is in Danbury, where longtime Republican Mayor Mark Boughton left for a job in the Lamont administration. Republican Dean Esposito is facing Democrat Roberto Alves to determine who will lead Danbury into its next chapter. 

Election officials are once again expecting higher than normal participation through absentee ballots. In a temporary policy designed to shield voters from exposure to the COVID-19 virus, lawmakers have permitted voters to cast absentee ballots without needing to cite one of a handful of excuses described in the state constitution. 

Merrill said she believed absentee ballot availability would boost turnout this year. 

“I have reports from places like Manchester — the sort of mid-sized cities — they have a huge increase in the number of people using the absentee ballots,” Merrill said. “That was a very popular measure, but of course this will be the last election where anyone can get an absentee ballot.”

The legislature approved a resolution this year which would allow voters to weigh in on the use of absentee ballots. Though the measure passed, Republicans opposed it and proponents failed to secure enough votes to put the question to voters this year. As it stands now, the resolution will need to be approved by the legislature again after the next election. That means the soonest voters could weigh in would be 2024. Voters previously weighed the question in 2014 and rejected the change.

At the polls Tuesday, House Speaker Matt Ritter said he hoped voters would recognize the convenience of no-excuse absentee ballot voting and approve a possible ballot question in the coming years to allow their expanded use in the future. 

“I’d hope that when people realize we’re back to the archaic, old way of allowing people to vote by absentee ballot with no other options, they’ll realize it’s important to amend our state constitution to put ourselves in line with almost every other state in the country,” Ritter said. “We are so restrictive compared to other states and it’s nothing to brag about here in Connecticut.”