Absentee ballot drop boxes at West Hartford Town Hall. If they haven't been mailed, voters can return the ballots in person in the Town ClerkÕs office, or via the drop boxes. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski hewed to familiar themes and issues Monday in their last full day of campaigning, with the notable exception of some late scuffling over ballot integrity and when voters can expect a winner. 

“I think Connecticut gets it right,” Lamont said. “You know, we’ve done pretty well on our elections over many years. I think people have confidence in the integrity of our system. I know a lot of outside players are casting shadows over the process, casting shadows over democracy. I think it’s a really unpatriotic thing to do.”

Stefanowski said he was bothered by a Facebook ad by the secretary of the state’s office that asked voters to be patient after the polls close, because heavy voting by absentee ballots could push a final count past midnight.

“I think it’s really sad that the secretary of state of the state of Connecticut threw in the towel and said, ‘Don’t expect results until the next day.’ I mean, there’s legal requirements that this vote is supposed to decided,” Stefanowski said.

The legal requirement, actually, is that results taken off the tabulators at the polls must be reported to the state by midnight, but local officials have 48 hours to report the final results, including absentees.

Republican confidence in elections has eroded in the two years since Donald J. Trump insisted that President Joe Biden’s victory was fraudulent, giving rise to the Jan. 6 insurrection and a new term in politics — election denier.

Only 26% of voters backing Republican congressional candidates said they were “very confident” that votes cast in person would be accurately counted, down from 48% two years ago, a new Pew Research survey found.

Republican Bob Stefanowski and his running mate, Laura Devlin, talked to reporters outside the Capitol on Monday. With the campaign nearly over, the mood was light. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

A majority of Republicans continue to doubt the reliability of absentee ballots.

As of Monday, Democrats were nearly three times more likely than Republicans to have returned absentee ballots. More than 123,000 votes had been cast by absentee — 66,488 by Democrats, 23,767 by Republicans and the rest by unaffiliated and minor party voters.

Trump falsely claimed in 2020, among other things, that votes counted after midnight should be disallowed. His claims of fraud were discredited by recounts, litigation and his own attorney general, William P. Barr.

A caller to Stefanowski on a radio show last week insisted the 2018 gubernatorial election was stolen, an opinion that Stefanowski said Monday he does not share. There was no recount in 2018, and Stefanowski saw no cause to seek one.

Stefanowski was asked at a press conference Monday if he has confidence in the balloting system. His answer was less than absolute.

“You know, I didn’t dispute anything last time,” he said. “We lost by 40,000 votes. I thought it was the right thing to do. I’m hoping that it’s a fair and consistent process. I have to assume that it will be. I just hope that it is.”

Lamont said no one should hesitate to accept the results this year.

“I hope all the contestants are gonna say, ‘We’re going to follow the voters and take their judgment to heart,’” Lamont said after a get-out-the-vote rally in Waterbury.

Stefanowski distanced himself from Trump’s continuing claims of fraud.

“By the way, I think Joe Biden is the rightfully elected President of the United States,” Stefanowski said. “That was not stolen.”

If the Facebook ad by the secretary of the state was intended to promote confidence, the Republican state chairman, Ben Proto, complained in a letter to the secretary of the state it might have an opposite effect.

Gov. Ned Lamont, Reps. Geraldo Reyes and Larry Butler, and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz at a rally outside Frankie’s hot dog stand in Waterbury. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

“We believe that it is important that not only do voters know results as quickly as possible, but, more importantly, that all elections officials abide by the law, which includes providing results to the SOTS office not later than midnight election day,” Proto wrote.

Gabe Rosenberg, the chief of staff and general counsel to Secretary of the State Mark Kohler, wrote back, reminding Proto that the midnight deadline applied to the machine tabulations, not absentee ballots.

The Facebook ad reflected that the mechanics of opening absentee ballots, verifying their legitimacy and checking them against duplicates cast at the polls is cumbersome and will not begin in many places until after 9 p.m., Rosenberg said.

“It is unrealistic to believe that this process can be completed by midnight, particularly in an election, like this one, where a larger-than-normal number of absentee ballots are expected to be received,” Rosenberg told Proto by letter.

The world of Connecticut election law is small, and Rosenberg and Proto know each other and have a working relationship. Rosenberg asked for a bit of help in avoiding a further erosion of faith in the system.

“In an era of partisanship and mistrust in election administration, I am hopeful that, by working together to increase voters’ faith in Connecticut’s system, we can set an example for the rest of the country in how elections can be run in a fashion that engenders, rather than erodes, confidence in the integrity of our elections,” Rosenberg wrote.

Proto wrote back, agreeing with the timelines outlined by Rosenberg but suggesting the general public may be unaware.

“A simple statement on your social media pages, as you did when you announced that results may not be available on election night, and a statement on your website and an explanation to the media would go a long way in ensuring that the people of Connecticut understand the time frames involved and that all is running smoothly,” he wrote.

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