As elections officials process over 600,000 absentee ballots across Connecticut, some mistakes have cropped up. Municipal clerks in four communities say the number is relatively small, and most resulted from human error and computer glitches -- not fraud.
Clerks across the state have been overwhelmed with ballots, most seeing double the volume compared to prior years. In some cities, ballot requests have increased three to 10 times the norm. The most common problem? Voters are getting ballots for the wrong district.
In New Britain, some voters have moved since submitting an absentee ballot application, and five of them got ballots that listed the wrong district, Town Clerk Mark Bernacki said. “We’re catching it when it comes back, because as we scan the ballots coming back, it’s saying, ‘Jeez, you know they’re in a different polling location.’” He said he’s contacted those voters to provide them with the correct ballot.
New Haven had a different problem. Inside each absentee ballot packet is a pre-addressed return envelope to carry the ballot back to be counted. Some voters found someone else’s name on those return envelopes.
City Clerk Michael B. Smart says the volume of ballots creates more opportunity for error.
“This is a big election,” he said. “You’re dealing with mass mailings, so mistakes happen.”
In Vernon and Wallingford, town officials believe their problems originated with the computer. Staff know which ballot to put in an envelope based on the district number printed next to a voter’s address. Address and district numbers were perfectly matched up in the computer, according to Vernon Registrar Chris Prue.
But when those address labels printed, Prue says, some had the wrong district number “so that when whoever came after and stuffed the envelope, the incorrect ballot was inserted into that envelope.” Prue says the good news is that there is plenty of time to correct those issues.
The state gave a list of potential errors to Vernon and Wallingford election officials. There were under 100 errors in Vernon and 261 in Wallingford.
Vernon town officials believe the problem originated at the state level, but the secretary of the state’s office has a different view. “It looks like it was there was a data entry mistake by the local officials, and we made sure that our system wouldn’t allow that to happen again when we saw that,” said Scott Bates, deputy secretary of the state.
In a letter to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said that by blaming local officials in Vernon and Wallingford, Merrill was sowing seeds of doubt that towns could be trusted with the sanctity of the state’s voting system.
Anna Posniak, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said mistakes are to be expected given the amount of people voting by absentee ballot this year.
“With the sheer volume of this undertaking -- handling tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of applications and ballots -- there are bound to be errors, both human and electronic,” Posniak said in a statement.
All municipal clerks interviewed for this story say they are contacting the voters they know are affected. If you suspect an error with your ballot, call your municipal clerk. And with all things this election season, the earlier the better, because clerks say errors found at this point can still be fixed.
Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Ali covers the Naugatuck River Valley for Connecticut Public Radio. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @ahleeoh.