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Registrars and Town Clerks Push for Delay of Connecticut’s Presidential Primary

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announces the candidates qualified for the presidential primary in Connecticut. Photo credit: Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org (we-ha.com file photo)

As of now the state’s presidential primary is still on for April 28, but West Hartford’s town clerk and registrars of voters, along with their counterparts statewide, are asking for a postponement.

By Ronni Newton

Five northeastern states are scheduled to hold a presidential primary on April 28, and while the state’s town clerks and registrars of voters are pushing for a delay to May or June to accommodate the ban on large gatherings due to the coronavirus, as of Tuesday the primary plans are still on track.

Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are the states participating in what has been deemed the “Acela” or “I-95” primary on April 28. New York is considering moving its primary to June 23, when the state already has primaries for state office.

West Hartford Town Clerk Essie Labrot, Republican Registrar of Voters Beth Kyle, and Democratic Registrar of Voters Patrice Peterson participated in a conference call with the Secretary of State Denise Merrill on Tuesday, “to gather as much information and assistance as possible regarding the status of the upcoming presidential preference primary,” they said. 

“Our greatest concern is the health and welfare of West Hartford voters thus we support both the State of Connecticut’s Associations of Town Clerks and Registrars of Voters who have asked that the primary be postponed for the safety of the community and in compliance with recent federal, state, and local government limits on group activities,” Labrot, Kyle, and Peterson said in a joint statement.

Both the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut and the Connecticut Town Clerks Association do not consider no-excuse absentee balloting as a viable alternative to a delay, and they cite the possibility of schools and town buildings still being closed on April 28, as well as the challenge of social distancing and keeping equipment clean, as problematic. 

No move to change the primary date was made following Tuesday’s call, and the town clerks and registrars have been told to proceed with the April 28 date, Labrot, Kyle, and Peterson said.

“Our primary is very, very late, which ironically was considered a liability by some. Now, it gives us more time to think this through,” Merrill, who has talked to Gov. Ned Lamont about a delay, told the Connecticut Mirror. “We don’t need to make that decision now.”

Although the primary date is a state law, it’s subject to waiver by the governor under his public health emergency declaration.

“Only the governor can make that decision. I certainly will have a recommendation,” Merrill said.

“The citizens of West Hartford should know that for weeks now the town clerk and registrars of voters offices have been working together developing emergency plans that protect the voters and poll workers as much as possible,” said Labrot, Kyle, and Peterson. “The offices have been in daily contact and meetings with the West Hartford emergency management director, the acting director of the Public Health District, the director of West Hartford facilities, the superintendent of schools, the town manager, and the mayor in order to develop the most comprehensive plan to protect residents and is flexible enough to accommodate information that seems to change the plans daily. During this unprecedented time, the health and welfare of all municipal employees and the residents of our communities should be the top priority,” they said

“We will continue to work with all the appropriate town services to ensure that West Hartford has the best plan that balances both the health of the community and our right to participate in the democratic process of voting.”

Ohio, Arizona, Florida and Illinois were scheduled to go to the polls Tuesday, but Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine postponed the state’s primary late Monday after declaring the coronavirus a danger to the lives of poll workers and voters. The postponement came after a chaotic day of contradictory court decisions and the prospect of state government defying a judicial order to proceed.

Editor’s note: Portions of a story written by Mark Pazniokas of CTMirror.org have been included in this article.

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