Residents have started receiving absentee ballot applications from the Secretary of State’s Office, and West Hartford Town Clerk Essie Labrot has been fielding hundreds of questions a day. Here’s what you need to know to ensure that your vote counts.
By Ronni Newton
The absentee ballot process is now underway for the Nov. 3, 2020 election, with an initial mailing of roughly 2 million absentee ballot applications to registered voters in Connecticut being sent out by a mail house hired by the Secretary of State’s Office, and while there are instructions included with the ballots, many voters still have questions.
West Hartford Town Clerk Essie Labrot has put together a series of FAQs, which appear below and on the Town Clerk’s web page and under the Absentee Ballot tab on the Town of West Hartford website, and said her office has been fielding as many as 200-300 questions per day.
- I applied for an absentee ballot for the August Primary, do I need to send in another application for the November Election? YES
- Is there a deadline for applications to be received? Applications should be mailed back or dropped in the Election Drop Box as soon as possible. If you do not have your completed application in by Oct. 26, it may cause your ballot to be received late.
- Can I put my absentee application/ballot in the drop box? YES
- Can you tell me if you have received my absentee application/ballot? You may track when your ballot is mailed to you after Oct. 2 at myvotect.gov/lookup
- When will I receive my ballot? Ballots start to go out on Oct. 2. If you have sent in your application and do not receive a ballot by Oct. 14, please contact us at 860-561-7430 or by email at [email protected]
- I have received my absentee ballot and now I changed my mind and I would like to vote at the polls, can I? YES, as long as you did not send in or drop off your ballot. Simply discard the ballot.
- Does the absentee ballot have to be postmarked by Nov. 3? NO – the ballot must be RECEIVED by mail or in the Election Drop Box by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
- I just registered to vote and received an absentee ballot application with my confirmation from the Registrar of Voters Office. A return envelope was not included with the packet, how should I return my application? You may place it in the Election Drop Boxes located at Town Hall.
The ballot applications that are coming from the Secretary of State’s office are generated with a bar code in the upper righthand corner, which is tied to the voter registration information. That bar code adds a level of automation to the system, and Labrot said staff in her office can scan the code and print a computer-generated label that is used to send out the ballot itself.
Under Section I, “Applicant’s Information,” the voter’s name, birth date, and address has been pre-filled, and while the “0” in the zip codes has been omitted from the form for applications sent to West Hartford registered voters as well as registered voters in some other towns, Labrot said it will not have any impact on the process.
“It’s all about the bar code that will generate the label,” she said. She has done a test of the code to ensure that it works.
Ballots will be sent out beginning Oct. 2. The Secretary of State’s Office has created an online tool, myvotect.gov/lookup, so that voters will be able to see when their ballot has been mailed and if it has been received by the Town Clerk. That site is referenced in the printed instructions that accompanied the applications, but note that the exclamation point at the end of the information about tracking is not actually part of the URL.
The system is very reliable, Labrot said, and the bar code on the automatically-generated applications eliminates much of the need for data entry. She said there was not a single error with the bar codes in West Hartford during the primary.
No one is able to vote twice, Labrot said. “The system does not allow for two ballots to be generated,” she said.
If someone requests a replacement ballot, it will be reissued manually by the Town Clerk’s Office and show up as a duplicate, but only that duplicate will be counted, and the other will be voided.
“The registrars keep the voter rolls current through a canvasing process every winter, as well as information from a national database named ERIC,” West Hartford Democratic Registrar of Voters Patrice Peterson said. “ERIC has many states participate and share information about people who have registered in a different state. Additional information is obtained from death certificates or from a voter themselves.”
A person who is deemed to be an inactive voter – who has not voted in at least four years, has not responded to a canvass, or who has had a voter confirmation letter returned as undeliverable – may vote only after filling out a new voter registration card. Election Day Registration is available for the Nov. 3 election.
“We have processes to double check, so everything goes out correctly. Zero errors is the goal,” Labrot said.
While there is not a system in place in Connecticut for automatic signature matching, if there are questions about the authenticity of a signature, a signature matching process will be initiated, Labrot said.
While all registered voters are eligible to vote via absentee ballot this year – there is a box on the application that allows all voters to check “COVID-19” as a reason for voting by absentee ballot, pursuant to Public Act 20-3 passed by the legislature during special session this summer – all nine of the town’s polling places will be open as well.
The town’s polling places were “very safe” for the primary, and will be safe for the November election as well,” Labrot said.
Voters who do plan to vote in person can return their absentee ballot applications and receive a ballot, and hang onto it just in case they become sick, or are otherwise unable to vote in person.
Having received a ballot will not prevent someone from voting in person, as long as that ballot has not been returned.
“If people are worried about the potential of sickness, I think they should submit the application. They can always choose not to return the ballot,” Labrot said, adding that there is no way to predict right now what will happen at the end of October.
In contrast to the Aug. 11 primary, when a mail house was used not just for sending out applications but also for many of the ballots, the Nov. 3 election the process is different. Once the applications are in the hands of registered voters, the rest of the absentee ballot process for the November election is being handled at the local level.
There are roughly 39,000 registered voters in West Hartford, and Labrot said she expects to process as many as 30,000 absentee ballot applications and, if all of those voters who receive the ballots decide to use them, there will also be 30,000 ballots to tabulate in a very condensed timeframe.
Timeliness is key, Labrot said. While the statute says that voters can apply for an absentee ballot as late as Nov. 2, that’s not realistic since the ballot needs to be mailed to the voter – and received at Town Hall – by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 in order to be counted.
“In order to be counted, they must be RECEIVED by 8 p.m. on Election Day either through the mail or Election Drop Box – it is not by postmark,” Labrot said.
“I’m advising Oct. 26. You really need to have your application in by then.”
There really is no reason to wait, Labrot said. All registered voters should receive the applications by the end of this week, and she advises those who don’t receive one by Sept. 23 to either download a form off the website or contact the Town Clerk’s Office at 860-561-7430.
The office is already very busy, Labrot said, and she is asking for the public to please be patient.
She asks that those with questions that are not answered by the information above or through the website FAQs use the email [email protected] if at all possible. The Town Clerks’s Office is handling regular business – such as deed filings, which are also more numerous than usual – in the mornings, and election business in the afternoons and evenings.
Temporary personnel have been hired to assist with the absentee voting process, and stations are set up in multiple areas throughout Town Hall to ensure proper physical distancing.
Opportunities are available for those interested in volunteering or applying for a paid position to work at the polls on Election Day, Republican Registrar of Voters Beth Kyle said. Those interested can apply through the website.
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