Absentee ballot request form.
Connecticut Public Radio
State Rep. Jason Perillo, left, and Sen. Eric Berthel.

Two Republican lawmakers are among a group suing to block Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s plan to allow people potentially at-risk from COVID-19 to use absentee ballots in this November’s election.

The suit filed in Superior Court claims allowing more people to use absentee ballots increases the likelihood of voter fraud and irregularities and that Merrill’s  action is both “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include two Republican state lawmakers: Sen. Eric Berthel of Watertown and Rep. Jason Perillo of Shelton.

Merrill responded Thursday by warning the lawsuit could “force people with serious health conditions to come to a polling place in person, despite the Centers for Disease Control warning that their health conditions increase their risk of COVID-19.”

“Voters with heart disease, asthma, or who are immuno-compromised because of cancer treatment are at high risk and should have the option of voting safely by absentee ballot,” Merrill said in a statement.

In May, Merrill issued a “Memorandum of Opinion” expanding the number of people in Connecticut who could vote by absentee ballot in the coming election. She cited her authority under state law to administer and interpret election laws.

Merrill’s memorandum stated that “any registered voter who has a pre-existing illness can vote by absentee ballot because that voter’s illness would prevent them from appearing at their designed polling place safely because of the COVID-19 virus.”

Also included under Merrill’s expanded definition for those eligible to vote via absentee ballot are people who may have been in contact with those infected with the coronavirus, first responders, people caring for someone at higher risk for the virus, and those who feel ill and may have COVID-19.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. ctmirror.org

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in New Britain Superior Court includes two other Republicans as plaintiffs: Dominic Rapini, who previously ran for the U.S. Senate in this state; and Linda Szynkowicz,  a candidate for the state House this year.

Connecticut’s state constitution specifies that absentee ballots may be used in an election by a registered voter who is unable to get to their polling place because there are away from their city or town on Election Day, are in the armed services, or because sickness, disability or religious issues prevent them from voting that day.

The plaintiffs charge that Merrill usurped the rights of “Connecticut’s electorate” to decide who should be allowed to vote by absentee ballot. The suit also argues that absentee ballots historically have been targets for voting fraud, are subject to getting lost or intercepted, and that they could allow people to influence the person using an absentee ballot.

“The Secretary’s actions will decrease public confidence in the election process and increase the election’s susceptibility to irregularities, from errors to fraud,” according to the legal action.

But Merrill responded that overturning her memorandum “would force doctors, nurses and EMTs, who have already been putting their lives at risk for our safety, to enter a polling place and interact with poll workers who will see hundreds of other people on Election Day.”

Republicans in Congress and in various states around the U.S. have opposed efforts to expand absentee voting during this pandemic. They also argue it could lead to fraud and distort the election results.

“Is the Connecticut Republican Party so afraid of losing seats in the 2020 election that they would endanger the health of Connecticut voters?” Democratic State Chair Nancy DiNardo asked in an email.

“Our state and federal governments have taken unprecedented steps to cope with a pandemic that has already killed 117,000 people, DiNardo said. “Forcing people to stand in line in a public place to vote could potentially endanger their health. Or reduce voter turnout.“

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Gregory B. Hladky

was a reporter for the Hartford Courant, the State Capitol bureau chief for the New Haven Register, and has written for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Connecticut Magazine and other publications.

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