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Elections Government

House Eases Pressure from Flood of Absentee Ballots

Secure Absentee Ballot boxes are in front of West Hartford Town Hall (near the parking lot) and can be used to drop off applications as well as completed ballots. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The registrars of voters in West Hartford will be finalizing a plan for the opening of the outer envelopes of absentee ballots if the legislation is finalized.

By Hugh McQuaid, CTNewsJunkie.com

Ronni Newton, We-Ha.com, contributed to this story

With voters requesting absentee ballots in historic numbers, the House voted Wednesday to enable city and town officials to begin processing those ballots four days before Election Day.

The legislation, which passed 139-5, gives registrars of voters the option to open the outer envelope of absentee ballots as soon as 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30.

Currently, they are not permitted to open the envelope until 6 a.m. on Election Day. If passed by the state Senate and approved by the governor, the new rules would be optional and at the discretion of town clerks working in concert with registrars of voters.

Rep. Dan Fox,  D-Stamford, who co-chairs the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said those officials need the greater flexibility given the record number of voters choosing to cast absentee ballots this year.

“As of this past week there have been in excess of 355,000 absentee ballot applications returned. Those numbers have been growing on a daily basis. This has, and will continue to require, remarkable efforts from town clerks, registrars and their staffs,” Fox said.

Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, stressed that towns will not be required to remove the outer envelopes from the ballots early.

“This is not a mandate. This is not prescribed by the legislature on the towns. It is their choice,” France said.

The bill will not give local officials the ability to begin tallying absentee votes early. The votes are contained in an inner envelope, which cannot be opened until Election Day.

West Hartford Town Clerk Essie Labrot said that her office is responsible for verifying that a ballot has been returned – which is done without opening the outer envelope. Once the ballot has been received, the voter rolls are marked with an “A” and that will prohibit someone who has returned an absentee ballot from also voting at a polling place.

The ballots are also sorted by the Town Clerk’s Office.

The still-sealed envelopes are then delivered to the registrars – but the legislation would permit those outer envelopes to then be opened by the registrars and their staff.

“We expect them to come to us sealed, sorted by district, street, and last name,” West Hartford Republican Registrar of Voters Beth Kyle said.

However, by opening the outer envelopes, the total number of absentee ballots can be ascertained and those that do not have the appropriate signature and date that are required for a valid ballot can be rejected.

Kyle said that she, Democratic Registrar of Voters Patrice Peterson, and Head Moderator Casey Rousseau will be meeting and will determine whether or not they will plan to take advantage of the ability to open the outer envelopes early.

“One thing that we did not want to change is the process of counting,” France said. “It’s important to remind people that we did not do anything to change that process, once again ensuring the integrity of the vote, which some people have been concerned about.”

According to Labrot, as of Oct. 1 nearly 15,000 absentee ballot applications have been received at West Hartford Town Hall. Ballots will be mailed out on Friday.

The legislation also seeks to establish additional election oversight of the city of Bridgeport by requiring the secretary of the state to contract an election monitor to be present for the election in any city with more than 140,000 residents. Bridgeport is the only city that meets that criteria. The monitor will “detect and prevent irregularity and impropriety in the conduct” of the election, the bill states. The election monitor’s pay will come from federal funding under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Republished with permission from CTNewsJunkie.com, all rights reserved.

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