With a presidential primary just a week away, municipal clerks are feeling the stress of absentee voting amid the pandemic.
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Mark Bernacki spent his Monday with a spreadsheet. He’s the clerk for the city of New Britain, which got 3,400 applications for absentee ballots this year. But some voters have yet to receive their ballots.
Bernacki says he thought all 3,400 ballots would be mailed by the state, but it turns out that was not the case for some 200 voters. And that’s what the spreadsheet is for. So now, with a week to go, Bernacki has to mail the ballots himself.
“You’re telling us now ... all 3,400 aren’t going to receive [absentee ballots]?” Bernacki said. “So now we’re scurrying around trying to find out who's got them, who didn’t -- and it’s a mess.”
Bernacki says it all makes him nervous, both about the primary and the November general election.
“If we talk about the November election, I’m gonna have close to 15,000 to 20,000 of these [absentee ballots], no way this can be accomplished unless things dramatically change between now and the November election,” Bernacki said.
Scott Bates, deputy secretary of the state, says the extra work for town clerks is by design. It ensures that, this close to the election, voters can get ballots directly from their clerks.
“Part of the game plan has always been that, at a certain point, it shifts over [to] the localities for speedy delivery of their absentee ballots,” Bates said.
He said about 90% of the requests for absentee ballots went through the Secretary of the State’s office. In non-global pandemic years, town clerks would process 100% of the absentee ballots. This year, the state is playing a bigger role, even paying for a lot of COVID-related expenses like staffing. Still, this was the plan.
“Everyone knew this day was coming,” said Bates. “It’s been on the calendar a long time.”
That said, the whole process has been a learning experience for November. Bates said the secretary’s office will look to make a series of improvements for the general election.
Municipal clerks like Bernacki are counting on it.
Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.