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West Hartford Town Clerk Expects to Issue 30,000 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 Secretary of State’s Office will be mailing out applications for the November election, but the processing will be taking place locally.

By Ronni Newton

If you plan to vote in the Nov. 3 election by absentee ballot, it’s a good idea to fill out your application as soon as you receive it.

West Hartford Town Clerk Essie Labrot also advises voters to be sure to follow all directions carefully – including the part about an original signature being required, using the inner envelope, and signing the envelope where indicated – and she suggests dropping off both the application and the ballot itself in one of the two secure drop boxes in front of Town Hall.

Connecticut’s August primary was considered by many as a test run for expanded absentee ballot voting, but then the Secretary of State’s Office, which had engaged a Rhode Island mail house to send out the applications as well as the ballots, ended that arrangement. After applications were received, ballots were supposed to be sent out beginning July 21, but did not go out until at least a week later, cutting the timing very close for the Aug. 11 primary.

Labrot said she thought Secretary of State Denise Merrill would hire a different mail house in advance of the November election, but instead has tasked individual town clerks’ offices with sending out the ballots.

The Secretary of State’s Office will still be responsible for the initial mailing of applications to the more than 2 million registered voters in the state, and Labrot said that is supposed to take place by early September, following some remaining tweaking of the application forms and the addition of clearer instructions to voters.

“I hope they send them out by Labor Day,” Labrot said. “I have asked for a definitive date.”

While West Hartford voters who would like to vote by absentee ballot can download their own application from the town’s website, Labrot said it’s better to wait for the form to arrive from the Secretary of State’s Office because it will be printed with a bar code that cuts the processing time in half.

The bar code is a voter ID code, which accurately matches the form with the voter, rather than relying on someone manually trying to decipher handwriting, which is not always an easy process, Labrot said.

After receiving the application from the state, and filling it out according to the directions, Labrot recommends dropping the application in one of the drop boxes outside Town Hall.

Ballots will be available after Oct. 2, and once a ballot is received and completed, Labrot also recommends using the drop box as well.

Concerns have arisen about new policies reducing operations at the United States Postal Service, and Connecticut’s attorney general has joined a multi-state coalition blocking those operational changes and the removal of mail sorting machinery from processing facilities.

“We will ask the court to block these destructive new policies and fully and immediately restore the postal service, so that Americans can cast their ballots with confidence this November and know their votes will be counted,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement earlier this week.

According to Tong’s office, the Postal Service will not be processing absentee ballots as first-class mail, which could lead to further delays if the applications and ballots are mailed.

West Hartford voters who choose to send in applications by mail should send them to: Town Clerk’s Office, Room 313, 50 South Main Street, West Hartford, CT 06107.

Elections, and presidential elections in particular, are always a busy time for her office, but Labrot is expecting this year to be off the charts.

Roughly 72% of those who voted in the Aug. 11 primary in West Hartford did so by mail, Labrot said. There were a total of 10,646 who voted; 7,616 by absentee ballot and 3,030 at the town’s nine polling places.

Looking at the same ratios, she said she expects to process 30,000 applications for the November election, which includes all voters, not just registered Republicans or Democrats.

Labrot said that West Hartford has about 39,000 registered voters. In the last presidential election, the town’s turnout was about 84%.

“That’s 90,000 pieces of mail,” Labrot said – 30,000 applications to process, then 30,000 ballots to be labeled and sent out, and 30,000 ballots received and tallied, all in the course of short period of time.

In an average month, Labrot said the West Hartford Town Clerk’s Office processes about 2,000 pieces of mail. Those items, which include real estate deeds and a variety of licenses, will also need to be handled.

“We will be setting up a mail processing station in the auditorium,” Labrot said. She is recruiting volunteers and also hiring people to assist with data entry and other tasks, which will likely be taking place in various shifts including on weekends.

Information will need to be kept separate by district.

Labrot said she also purchased an electronic envelope opener. The ballots have an inner and outer envelope. “You can’t open 60,000 envelopes with a plastic opener,” she said.

Labrot has another message, and she can’t say it enough: “Don’t wait.”

“We received a number of applications within days of the primary, even the day of the election,” Labrot said.

To be counted, completed absentee ballots must arrive at Town Hall by the time the polls close, 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. Because of the storm there were two extra days permitted for the primary ballots, but Labrot said she received some postmarked Aug. 17.

She recommends that applications be returned by Oct. 20 at the absolute latest.

Students who have returned to college need to make sure they stay on top of the timing as well, and may need to be reminded that the process cannot be handled completely online. An original signature – not the signature of a parent or someone else – is required.

There’s no guarantee that there won’t be another storm, said Labrot. Tropical Storm Isaias knocked out power to Town Hall, and to the Shield Street Post Office, just days before the primary. Some of the town’s mail, including ballots, ended up being processed in Westchester County, NY, she said.

For those who will vote in person, Labrot said the town’s polling places were “very safe” for the primary, and will be safe for the November election as well.

Military personnel and persons temporarily living overseas may submit a Federal Post Card Application to register & apply for an Absentee Ballot. For information regarding the Electronic Transmission Service email: [email protected]. For any UOCAVA related questions email: [email protected].

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