Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, won her first Democratic primary by 82 votes in 2014 and her second two years later by 1,143. On Tuesday, she was fretting over the fact that at least 1,100 Democrats who applied for an absentee ballot in her district have yet to receive one.
Moore is one of them.
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“I didn’t get my ballot yet, but my son did,” said Moore, one of the unprecedented number of voters to send in absentee ballot applications in 2020. “I mailed mine before he did.”
Connecticut, a state with no significant history of voting by mail, has temporarily loosened its restrictive absentee ballot rules for the Aug. 11 primary and Nov. 3 general election, a measure designed to allow voting by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With voters complaining of unexplained delays in receiving their ballots from a bulk mail company hired by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office, candidates have been hearing from anxious supporters: Will they get their ballots in time?
“It’s not about me. It’s about all those people who are frustrated they won’t have their ballot in time to vote,” Moore said. “I have already received a lot of text messages and Facebook posts saying, ‘I haven’t received my ballot.’”
About 300,000 ballots have gone out in three major batches of mailings, and the last of those ballots should have been received in the mail Tuesday, Merrill said.
But about 20,000 applications now must be handled by local town clerks, which means mailing out ballots and hoping that voters mail them back in time for them to be counted. Voters can also place them in drop boxes at town halls.
“I’m afraid some people won’t get their ballot in,” said Rep. Bobby Gibson, D-Bloomfield, whose House district is one of 11 with primaries for Democratic or Republican nominations. “I wish there was a way we could extend the deadline for the ballots to be received.”
The secretary of the state’s office and the president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association disagree about whether the scramble to handle those last 20,000 applications is evidence of inattention to deadlines, either by the clerks or by Merrill’s office, or simply the challenges of undertaking a massive vote-by-mail effort.
The clerks says they were caught by surprise. Merrill’s office says they were warned.
“Our LAST data drop to the mail house will be at NOON on August 3, 2020. Thereafter, any absentee ballot request received from any source will be fulfilled by the town clerk locally,” Merrill’s office had told the clerks in writing.
But Anna Posniak, the president of the clerks’ association, sent an alert Monday warning her members that the 20,000 applications that they now had to handle were the result of a failure by Merrill’s office.
“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,” she wrote. The secretary of the state’s office provided her with a spreadsheet identifying the voters who had applied for a ballot but would not get one from the mail house, she said.
“The Excel spreadsheet contains over 20,000 ballots statewide that were not sent out by SOTS. You will need to isolate the voters from your town. You MUST resend each voter on the Excel spreadsheet an absentee ballot immediately,” Posniak wrote.
She also warned of “poor quality control” at the mail house that resulted in some envelopes being improperly sealed, potentially allowing the ballot to slip out.
Posniak did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Republicans say Merrill’s office has bungled the primary, a mix of do-or-die legislative primaries and two presidential contests that are going forward even though Donald J. Trump and Joe Biden long ago clinched the Republican and Democratic nominations.
Republicans have primaries for the nominations in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts, plus one state Senate and three state House districts, none involving incumbents. Democrats have two state Senate and eight state House primaries, five involving challenges to incumbents.
“I’m livid,” said Rep. Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, the deputy House minority leader. He says Merrill’s incompetence will feed concerns about the reliability and integrity of voting by absentee ballot.
Candelora, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and others complain that Merrill’s office was inattentive to the timeline required for a major vote-by-mail effort and failed to adequately communicate to town clerks and voters.
Fasano said a clerk in Durham emailed him Tuesday about a voter getting an envelope in the mail with no ballot. Moore said her son’s ballot came in a partially opened envelope.
“She doesn’t want to admit she made a mistake,” Fasano said of Merrill.