Saturday, December 05, 2020

Life & Style

Local, State Officials Stepping Up to Meet Election Day Challenges

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After a voter applies for an absentee ballot, that voter will receive in the mail from town or city hall an outer envelope, an inner envelope, and a ballot. The ballot needs to be filled out completely according to the instructions on the back, and then placed in the inner envelope, which must be sealed, signed and dated, and then placed in the outer envelope, which must be sealed and delivered to the lock box outside of town or city hall, or dropped in the U.S. mail. All ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, election day. It is not enough to have it postmarked election day. Ballots that are not correctly filled out or that are not received by 8 p.m. on election will be invalid.

Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source

After a voter applies for an absentee ballot, that voter will receive in the mail from town or city hall an outer envelope, an inner envelope, and a ballot. The ballot needs to be filled out completely according to the instructions on the back, and then placed in the inner envelope, which must be sealed, signed and dated, and then placed in the outer envelope, which must be sealed and delivered to the lock box outside of town or city hall, or dropped in the U.S. mail. All ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, election day. It is not enough to have it postmarked election day. Ballots that are not correctly filled out or that are not received by 8 p.m. on election will be invalid. (Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source | Buy This Photo)

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The back of the ballot provides detailed information about how to fill out the ballot.

Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source

The back of the ballot provides detailed information about how to fill out the ballot. (Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source | Buy This Photo)

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State and local officials are encouraged voters who are voting by absentee ballot to place their ballots in the locked box at town or city hall as soon as possible.

Photo by Aviva Luria/The Source

State and local officials are encouraged voters who are voting by absentee ballot to place their ballots in the locked box at town or city hall as soon as possible. (Photo by Aviva Luria/The Source | Buy This Photo)

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While any voter is allowed to vote by absentee ballot this year, due to the pandemic, polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3 for voters who want to vote in person. Those who vote by absentee ballot should make sure their ballots are received by 8 p.m. on election day, but even earlier is better.

Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source

While any voter is allowed to vote by absentee ballot this year, due to the pandemic, polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3 for voters who want to vote in person. Those who vote by absentee ballot should make sure their ballots are received by 8 p.m. on election day, but even earlier is better. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)

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Those interested in voting by absentee ballot should apply as soon as possible, by submitting an absentee ballot application to town or city hall. The ballots must be received by Tuesday, Nov. 3. Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source

Those interested in voting by absentee ballot should apply as soon as possible, by submitting an absentee ballot application to town or city hall. The ballots must be received by Tuesday, Nov. 3. (Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source | Buy This Photo)

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The outer envelope for the absentee ballots are postage paid, but state and local officials are encouraging people to drop the ballots in specially designated town hall drop boxes, if at all possible, to avoid possible problems with an overburdened U.S. postal system. Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source

The outer envelope for the absentee ballots are postage paid, but state and local officials are encouraging people to drop the ballots in specially designated town hall drop boxes, if at all possible, to avoid possible problems with an overburdened U.S. postal system. (Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source | Buy This Photo)

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The completed ballot goes into the inner envelope, which must be sealed, dated, and signed, and then placed into the outer envelope to be delivered to town or city hall. Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source

The completed ballot goes into the inner envelope, which must be sealed, dated, and signed, and then placed into the outer envelope to be delivered to town or city hall. (Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source | Buy This Photo)

Wendy Lewis’s mother passed away not too long after applying to vote by absentee ballot. When Lewis, who lives in Madison, received her own ballot in the mail, she kept checking her mom’s mailbox so she could pull her mom’s ballot out and destroy it.

It never arrived.

Concerned, she called the town clerk’s office. She learned they immediately removed her mom from the town rolls when the death certificate was issued and then pulled the ballot from the outgoing mail bin.

“How efficient! Thank you to Madison town offices. If you are an absentee ballot voter, this should give you confidence in the system,” Lewis wrote in a recent letter to the editor in The Source.

Secretary of the State Dennis Merrill agrees.

“Absolutely. They are the real heroes of the tale,” she says of municipal town clerks and registrars. “We’re trying to ramp up the system. Absentee ballots are traditionally about five percent of the vote and, arguably, it could be as much as 68 percent this year. They are doing the best they can and we have had very few reports of problems. People are getting their ballots.

“We have a new ballot tracking system so people can tell if their ballot is received,” Merrill continues. “They’ve hired on all kinds of help in most towns. And thank God we had this federal grant to help pay for it, otherwise I don’t know what we would have done. There is no cost to the town. And the way these people have stepped up is quite incredible.”

There are challenges and concerns ahead. State officials are alert to the threat of hacking and interference with online election and reporting systems. State officials also have asked local voting officials to be vigilant about any threat of voter intimidation or violence at the polls, even though there are no specific or credible threats of that in this state. The concern, Merrill says, is centered around irresponsible rhetoric, most of it though not all of it, nationally.

One of the biggest challenges is a bit more mundane, and that is making sure people understand how to vote by absentee ballot, and encouraging them to follow directions carefully. Merrill admits that she’s even had immediate family members experience some confusion about the specific steps.

“My husband got his this morning. And even with all the talk, he looked at these envelopes and, well,” she says, “he really didn’t want to ask me for help. But he really had to take his time to figure it out.”

Merrill is sympathetic to the fact that it can be a little confusing. It’s the first time most of us have voted absentee.

Her advice: “I just think people need to be patient. Make sure you read everything carefully.”

How To Fill Out Your Absentee Ballot

The first step is to apply for an absentee ballot by downloading the application from portal.ct.gov/SOTS/Election-Services/Voter-Information/Absentee-Voting or by returning the application that should have been sent to every registered voter in Connecticut. Do this as soon as possible if you have not already and you want to vote by absentee ballot.

Once that application is processed by the local municipality, the voter will be sent these items:

• ballot

• An inner return envelope

• An outer return envelope

Once you have those three items in front of you, get a black or blue pen, or pencil:

Ballot: On the ballot, completely fill in each oval for your choice of candidate. If you have any questions about how to do this, read the directions on the reverse side of the ballot. To write in a vote, follow the directions on the bottom left on the reverse side of the ballot. Do not sign or otherwise put your name on the ballot.

Inner return envelope: Fold the ballot into thirds and place it into the inner return envelope. This will be marked “Inner Return Envelope for Absentee Ballot” and can be distinguished from the other envelope because it will have a “Date” field and a “(Signature)” field. Once the completed ballot is in the envelope, seal the envelope, write in the date, and sign it. Sign this envelope with the same signature that you used to apply for the absentee ballot. Your vote will not be counted unless you sign this envelope.

Outer return envelope: Write your name and address in the space provided on the upper left. Insert your signed and sealed inner return envelope that contains your ballot. Seal the outer envelope. You must use this envelope to return the inner return envelope that contains your ballot, even if you are submitting your ballot in a municipal dropbox. If you do not use this outer return envelope, your ballot will be invalidated.

Ballot Must Be Received by 8 p.m. on Election Day

Now that everything is properly signed and sealed, deliver it. The best option? Identify the location of the state government authorized lockboxes placed in each municipality, and put it in that lockbox. If you’re not sure where it is, a quick call to the town clerk should provide you with that information. The envelope must be received no later than 8 p.m. on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

But don’t wait until the last minute.

Drop it in that box as early as possible.

Or, you can mail it, and the outer envelope is postage paid. But keep in mind that the U.S. Postal Service is suffering from the strain of the large volume of absentee ballots, in addition to other significant issues.

If you do opt to send it through the mail, keep in mind the ballot still must be received by town or city hall by 8 p.m. on Election Day. It’s not enough to have a postmark of Tuesday, Nov. 3. The clerk’s office must have it in hand by 8 p.m. on that day or it will not be counted. To check the status of your absentee ballot, you can visit portaldir.ct.gov/sots/LookUp.aspx.

And, of course, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day and there is some hope that the huge number of people voting by absentee ballot will mean most polling places will be able to handle the number of voters who show up on election day, even with the pandemic protocols in place.

Election Week, Instead of Election Day

Merrill says the processing of absentee ballots in Connecticut will be facilitated by a decision of the General Assembly to allow clerks to begin opening the outer envelopes the Friday before election day. Even so, the actual tally of the votes themselves will not take place until 6 a.m. on election day. That being the case, some results may come in later than in past years, she says.

This may be even more true in other parts of the country in states that are facing larger challenges. Official results from some key battleground states may come in later than in past years. Election experts are encouraging people to think of it in terms of an election week, rather than an election day.

“I think the majority of towns [in Connecticut] will have their results in by midnight, as usual,” Merrill says. “But they have 96 hours to get all of the results in, according to the legislation that was passed in July.”

Merrill wants everything to be processed in a timely manner, but she is cognizant that it’s a balancing act this year.

“It’s a balance between accuracy and speed,” she says. “We want to make sure every vote is counted.”

Voter Intimidation, Suppression Will Not Be Tolerated

With this being one of the most hotly contested presidential races in recent history, Merrill admits the rhetoric nationally about the possibility of voter intimidation and violence at the polls could be potentially distressing to voters. Merrill, along with state Attorney General William Tong and Chief State’s Attorney Richard J. Colangelo, Jr., sent a memo to local election officials recently detailing protections in both state and federal law when it comes to voter intimidation.

Merrill says she’s asking local election officials to be vigilant on behalf of Connecticut voters.

Tong, in a prepared release, said ,”If you see something, say something. Voter intimidation and suppression is illegal and unacceptable and will not be tolerated anywhere in Connecticut. Working together with the secretary of the state and our law enforcement partners, we will do everything in our power to protect the safety and legitimacy of this election.”

Colangelo said the Division of Criminal Justice will be working with state and local election officials and law enforcement to make sure no one is intimidated or threatened on election day. He said local law enforcement officials have been briefed about the issue.

“Connecticut’s state’s attorneys and I have confidence in state and local officials to enforce election laws and to report fraud and other violations,” he said. “Any instances of residents being intimidated from exercising their constitutional right to vote will be reported to local and state law enforcement officials and addressed appropriately by police and prosecutorial authorities.”

Anyone who sees what looks like unauthorized or illegitimate interference at polling places can contact local law enforcement or call 1-866-SEEC-INFO (1-866-733-2463) and/or email elections@ct.gov, says Gabe Rosenberg from the Secretary of the State’s Office.

“That is the SEEC/secretary of the state hotline and we can get law enforcement somewhere in a hurry,” he says.

Merrill says she was concerned to read news reports about the chair of the state’s Republican party sending out an email calling for an “army” of people to engage in poll watching in the state.

“We have never seen this kind of thing in Connecticut before,” she says. “I hope we won’t see it this time. I think what it does, is that it could inspire certain people who might want to take the law in their own hands and stand around and intimidate people at the polls...I worry that he is emboldening people to act inappropriately.”

She says those who work at the polls on election day are appointed by the local municipalities and that, particularly this year with the pandemic, those who are allowed into polling locations will be strictly controlled according to state statutes and regulations.

“We can’t have hordes of people in there, they have to be appointed by the registrars of voters,” she says.

A Close Eye on Cyber Threats

Merrill has been following reports of a recent successful ransomware attack on the City of Hartford that led to schools being closed briefly, and that affected other city systems. There was another recent report of Microsoft battling ransomware and other malicious software on local government networks that threatened the November election. During the 2016 election, there was an attempt on Connecticut’s voter registry by Russian actors.

Since then, Connecticut has done a lot of cyber cleaning and a lot of training, Merrill says. And Connecticut, fortunately, remains heavily reliant upon a paper trail. She remains concerned about electronic interference, but says it most likely might target the state’s ability to report information out.

“It could create confusion, but it would not derail the election,” she says. “But I would worry about public perception if there were any problems”

Other than that she says, her one remaining worry is something she cannot control.

And that’s the weather.

“I think we’re doing reasonably well,” she says. “I just hope we don’t have a storm.”







Pem McNerney is the Living Editor for Zip06. Email Pem at p.mcnerney@shorepublishing.com.

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