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August 5, 2020

20,000 absentee ballots are being mailed by CT town clerks one week before primary

Photo | Creative Commons/functoruser

A week ahead of the Connecticut primary election, 20,000 absentee ballots were in the process of being mailed or still needed to be mailed to voters who had requested them by town clerks across the state, local officials say.

While it's unclear who's at fault for the ballots not being mailed last week, voters will now have less time to vote and mail their ballots back to be counted in time for the primary election on August 11, the latest example of how the pandemic is roiling the voting process.

Anna Posniak, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, called it a "major problem."

"Town clerks are very frustrated with the situation," Posniak said. "I've heard from many town clerks that they all stayed late [Monday] night."

The office of Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill said that it was always planning to have town clerks send out ballots instead of the state system at some point in the process, but because this is the first time the state has allowed people to vote with an absentee ballot when they are not out of the state, the secretary of state was not sure when the transition would occur.

"We've never done this before in Connecticut," Gabe Rosenberg, the secretary of state's communications director, told CNN. "We don't have no excuse absentee balloting. We knew there was going to be a point where it stopped being efficient to use the mail house. We have no frame of reference or history of knowing when that date was."

The state saw a dramatic increase in requests for absentee ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic impacting the nation. The state has already processed 267,000 absentee ballots, Rosenberg said. In past elections, the state normally receives closer to 10,000 requests for absentee ballots, he said.

In elections held under normal circumstances, town clerks process all absentee ballot applications and mail absentee ballots directly to voters. Because the state anticipated an increase in absentee ballot requests due to the pandemic, the secretary of state's office instead set up a plan to have absentee ballots processed through a large mailing center they have a contract with known colloquially as mail house.

The secretary of state's office planned to transition from using mail house to send the ballots to town clerks sending out ballots about a week before the election, on August 3, Rosenberg said.

In a letter to all town clerks on Monday, Posniak said the secretary of state's office had failed to process absentee ballot applications town clerks had inputted last week, so town clerks would need to go back, find those applications and mail ballots to those voters.

The confusion has led to the secretary of state's office and Posniak pointing fingers about a miscommunication regarding when town clerks would need to start processing ballots.

Rosenberg says that Posniak agreed to mail out applications received last week in a conversation with his office's election director, Ted Bromley, on Thursday.

Posniak's letter says she did not learn that the ballots had not been mailed last week until Monday afternoon.

"It was brought to my attention this afternoon that Secretary of the State's office did not send absentee ballot exports for last week to mail house," Posniak said in her letter to town clerks on Monday. "The Secretary has created a major problem that Town Clerks are now left to fix with the primary only one week away."

Town clerks now must send out ballots to applicants received last week as well as any incoming applications this week. Many of the 169 towns in Connecticut have less than 100 ballots to send out, but larger cities like Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk are now required to send out hundreds of ballots from last week's applications. Bridgeport had 916 ballots, Norwalk had 567, Middletown had 1,674 and Hartford had 494 ballots that needed to be sent out, according to data from the secretary of state's office shared with CNN.

Rosenberg said that the secretary of state has called every city with more than 400 ballots that need to be sent to offer additional help in processing and sending ballots. Only Hartford requested assistance, he said.

In order for an absentee ballot to be counted, it must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, August 11, meaning the last day that a voter could reliably put a ballot in the mail and have it received on time is fast approaching. Rosenberg said the secretary of state's office has installed drop boxes in every town, so if voters are concerned about their vote being received by mail in time, they can drop off their vote in person at the drop box.

The governor would have to issue an executive order in order to change the deadline for when absentee ballots must be received in order to be counted, according to Posniak. The Connecticut governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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