Despite pandemic and power outages, the Connecticut primary is here

MARK PAZNIOKAS :: CTMIRROR.ORG

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill outside the Capitol on Monday.

The polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday for a primary complicated by a lingering COVID-19 pandemic, a weeklong power outage and Connecticut’s first-ever election in which a significant portion fo the vote is likely to be cast by absentee ballots.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Monday she has been assured that every polling place will have power, though it may come from a generator in some places. But seven town halls were without internet service, complicating the processing of absentee ballots.

Gov. Ned Lamont, meanwhile, issued an executive order allowing municipal officials to count absentee ballots received by mail so long as they were postmarked by Tuesday, an extension provided only for this primary. Normally, mailed ballots are counted only if they arrive at local clerks’ offices before the close of the polls, regardless of postmark.

“The statewide power outages and connectivity issues caused by Tropical Storm Isaiah have resulted in disruption to mail delivery and election offices across the state. This executive order would respond to postal delays caused by the storm to make sure every vote is counted,” Merrill said.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano R-North Haven, said the need for an extension was evidence that the Merrill’s office mishandled the mailing of absentee ballots, most of which were handled by a central mail house hired by the state in recognition that absentee ballots would be used on a scale unseen in Connecticut.

“This is an admission by Secretary Merrill that her system failed. She’s trying to blame everyone, including the weather, for her errors. This is not the fault of a storm, it’s not the fault of the postal service, and it’s not the fault of town clerks. Secretary Merrill’s third-party mail house missed multiple deadlines and delayed sending ballots,” Fasano said.

Merrill said a record number of ballots have been mailed and should have arrived by Monday.

About 460,000 Republicans and 800,000 Democrats are eligible to vote in anticlimactic presidential primaries, with down-ballot contests for two Republican congressional nominations and a scattering of state legislative nominations in both parties. The primary originally was scheduled for April.

Lamont, a Democrat who was an early backer of Joe Biden, was among the 300,000 voters to take advantage of an executive order he issued that allows any eligible voter to use an absentee ballot as a public-health precaution during the pandemic.

Every registered Democrat and Republican was mailed an application for an absentee ballot, while not all ballots were mailed out in response until last week. 

“Don’t try to mail your ballot if you just got it today,” Merrill said.

The surest way to cast an absentee ballot now is to drop it in one of the secure ballot drop boxes outside every city or town hall. Ballots must be placed in an official drop box in your community by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

An official absentee ballot drop off box.

If you’ve mailed your ballot and are concerned it hasn’t been delivered, you can check at myvote.ct.gov/lookup. Your choice of candidates is secret, but whether a ballot has been received from you is a public record.

For example, if you knew the governor’s date of birth, you could check to when his ballot arrived at Greenwich Town Hall. It was received on Saturday.

If your ballot is not marked received, you can go to the polls and still vote.

“This was just always an option,” Merrill said of the ability vote by  absentee without meeting one of the narrow criteria that generally applies. “I think you can feel good about going to the polls.”

If you go to the polls, you will be greeted by poll workers who will be wearing masks and asking you to do the same. Social distancing will be the norm for waiting in line.

Ashford, Colebrook, Colchester, Plainfield, Salem, Sterling and Union were the seven communities where the town hall did not have internet access on Monday. That could complicate the printing of voter lists from a database that notes if an absentee ballot has been cast.

President Donald J. Trump and Biden are assured their parties’ presidential nominations, but in Connecticut Trump faces Rocky De La Fuente in the GOP primary and Biden faces Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard in the Democratic contest. Only the candidates had the ability to withdraw their names.

Counting absentee ballots is done by feeding them into the same optical scanners used at the polls. But the process of opening and validating the absentee ballots is more time-consuming, potentially causing delays in results.

In November, any voter will be able can use an absentee ballot due to the pandemic and special legislation passed last month.

Republicans have primaries for the congressional nominations in the 1st and 2nd Districts, a state Senate district and three House districts. Democrats have eight House and two Senate primaries, most in Democratic districts where winning a primary is tantamount to election.

Mark Pazniokas: Mark is a co-founder of CT Mirror, a frequent contributor to WNPR and a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer and contributor for The New York Times.
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