Connecticut SoS, Localities Dispute Responsibility for 20K Last-Minute Mail Ballots

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Connecticut’s Secretary of State and local clerks are pointing fingers at one another regarding whose responsibility it is to mail 20,000 ballots in the last week before the August 11 primary. The Hartford Courant has more:

Only one week before the Aug. 11 presidential primary, town clerks say that more than 20,000 Connecticut voters who requested absentee ballots haven’t received them yet due to a mix-up by the state, leaving local officials racing to get them in the hands of voters in time for the election.

Anna Posniak, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, wrote to her fellow clerks that they must move quickly to ensure that voters get their ballots.

“I must alert all town clerks that immediate action is needed,” Posniak wrote Monday. “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. In my conversation with [the state elections director] at 2:45 p.m. today, he stated that it was clear that SOTS needed to end ties with the mail house as they were not able to process the absentee ballots in a timely manner.”

The state’s 169 localities are now responsible for sending the remaining ballots – though there are concerns that they may be going out too late for voters to receive and return them:

Posniak said that she received an Excel spreadsheet from the state with the ballots that need to be sent to towns across the state.

“The Excel spreadsheet contains over 20,000 ballots statewide that were not sent out by SOTS,” she wrote to the clerks. “You will need to isolate the voters from your town. You MUST resend each voter on the Excel spreadsheet an absentee ballot immediately.”

The clerks are now rushing to get the ballots into the hands of voters, who can drop off the ballots at special boxes that are bolted to the ground in front of town halls across the state. The ballots can also be mailed, but the speed of delivery by the U.S. Postal Service varies from town to town.

Due to potential mailing delays, Posniak recommended that voters should not mail their ballots after Thursday. Instead, she said they should travel to the local town hall and drop the ballot in the special box personally any time before the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Any ballots that arrive in the mail at town halls in the days after the primary will not be counted.

The State claims that the handoff to localities was always the plan, given the volume of ballots already sent – but clerks argue that it occurred sooner than they expected:

Gabe Rosenberg, the chief spokesman for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, said Tuesday that all registrars and town clerks had been told on June 8 exactly how the system would be working with the absentee ballots. He said they were then told on July 29 that local registrars would have to begin processing ballots starting at noon on Monday.

But Posniak countered that the actual date of the change was Monday, July 27 — prompting the problem with more than 20,000 ballots during that week. The number of ballots that haven’t been received by voters ranges widely from town to town — with 916 in Bridgeport, 494 in Hartford, 433 in West Hartford, 221 in Glastonbury, 126 in Avon, and 3 in Ridgefield, according to state records.

Rosenberg said the local officials have been updated on a regular basis, and all registrars and town clerks have been invited to participate in 10 group conference calls since March. The state mailed 267,000 absentee ballots, and the towns were expected to mail the rest to their local voters in the final stretch before the primary, he said.

The 267,000 absentee ballots are “absolutely” the most in state history as there are new rules for widely expanded absentee eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rosenberg said. About 6% to 8% of votes in Connecticut are traditionally cast by absentee, but that number could jump this year to 40% to 60%, he said.

The issue appears to be related to capacity concerns at the state’s mail vendor – and now both clerks and legislative Republicans are pointing fingers at the Secretary of State:

Cathedral Corporation of Rhode Island, the state-hired private vendor that handled the ballots, is a commercial printer and Connecticut state contractor with experience in mailing absentee ballots, officials said. Cathedral mailed out more than 40 different designs because the ballots were localized in many towns with primaries for state Senate, state House or local races like registrar of voters. Other towns, like many in the 5th Congressional District that has no primary, have only the presidential primary on the ballot.

Prompted by the town clerks’ letter, House Republicans called Tuesday morning for an investigation into the problem.

“It has become obvious that the entire absentee ballot mail-in voter process has been mismanaged, based on all the contacts that we have had with the elected officials who know this system best — our local registrars and towns clerks, both Republican and Democrats,” House Republican leader Themis Klarides and deputy leader Vincent Candelora said in a joint statement. “The problems with the vendor processing the absentee ballots on time should concern everyone, and it is disappointing to find out about this issue one week before the primary.”

Posniak is blaming Merrill, the state’s chief elections officer.

“The Secretary has created a major problem that Town Clerks are now left to fix with the primary only one week away,” Posniak wrote in her Monday letter. “Additionally, I am extremely irate that Secretary Merrill, Deputy Secretary [Scott] Bates and Elections Division Director, Ted Bromley, did not mention this during our 10 a.m. conference call today. In a phone call last Thursday, Ted had mentioned this was a possibility. However, Ted assured me that he would get back to me if they decided to send the data back to the town clerks for reprocessing.

“Had this information been given to us on Friday, I know that 169 town clerks would have worked over the weekend to get those ballots to their voters. I am extremely concerned for the voters in our large cities as this neglect by SOTS may disenfranchise their vote next Tuesday. If you are unable to reprocess all of last week’s volume of applications in addition to this week’s requests, please reach out to me and we will try to get you some assistance from other towns with lower volumes to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised.”

The controversy comes after a concerted push by the SoS to allow expanded absentee voting in the Nutmeg State for 2020 … here’s hoping that localities who need it will be able to get assistance from the state or neighboring jurisdictions in order to ensure that voters receive their ballots in time. Stay tuned…

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