Town clerks mull mass mailings of absentee ballot applications – Danbury News Times

town-clerks-mull-mass-mailings-of-absentee-ballot-applications-–-danbury-news-times

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A year after a huge influx of federal relief money paid for the mailing of absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in Connecticut, town clerks throughout the state have been reminded they can again send out mass ballot applications for the upcoming municipal elections.

Some Republicans opposed the mass mailings of applications in the 2020 elections on the grounds that town voters lists contained many names of people no longer living there — raising the risk of fraud, the critics said.

But the problem now is that city and town budgets were set months ago and some towns might not have the money for additional printing, postage and office workers. Time is also a factor because absentee ballots are supposed to be ready for the public by October 1 for the Nov. 2 local elections.

Town clerks such as Marc Garofalo of Derby are studying the issue. And while the turnout is not likely to come close to the little city’s 80 percent turnout for the 2020 presidential vote, the municipal election takes planning.

“Our budget’s all set,” Garofalo said in a Friday phone interview, stressing that there is a lot of interest among voters who liked the option to vote by mail. “We’re a small town, so I am hoping we have a little more flexibility for it. When the weather gets cold and people are inside, our biggest worry is an onslaught of COVID at the end of the election cycle, which could create more problems.”

In an email sent to town clerks this week, Theodore E. Bromley, director of elections for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, reminded the local officials that a provision in the state budget that took effect July 1 allows for a continuance of COVID-related excuses for voting by mail-in and drop-off ballots this fall. He suggested that towns and cities limit absentee ballot applications to active voters using updated voter lists and correct name information.

While Derby officials figure out what to do in the next few days, Garofalo, a member of the board of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, recommends that people who plan to vote by absentee, download an application soon from their local websites or the Secretary of the State, fill it out and send it to City Hall.

“We’re going to have work together with the voter registrars to settle whether we’re going to do it and how,” Garofalo said. “When they were sent from the state, there were bar codes and return postage-paid. The bar codes made it significantly easier to put them into the system. The question is, do we send them out to everybody, the people who voted last time and those who have registered since the election?”

Last year, about 1,800 of the city’s 7,000 registered voters cast votes by mail or drop-boxes. The previous high was in the 2016 presidential election, when 300 absentees were recorded. Garofalo expects 40-to-50 percent turnout for the fall election this year.

“Although our office will not be mailing applications to all active registered voters in the state, it would be allowable for each town clerk to mail out applications to all active voters within their town,” Bromley wrote. “If you decide to mail applications to all active voters in your town, you will need to keep a list of those active voters that have received an application.”

He reminded them of the experiences of last year’s presidential election — high turnout and the large percentage of absentee ballots, with 35 percent, or 666,000 of them, cast by mail or dropped off in local boxes.

Bromley suggested that local officials send the applications to active voters; and that up-to-date registries are used. Double-checking name spellings is important, as is alerting voters to the reason why they are being sent applications, he said.

Berlin Town Clerk Kate Wall, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association (CTCA) said an important thing to remember is the continued right of voters to cite concern over COVID-19 is a valid reason to request absentee ballots.

“The CTCA welcomes the opportunity to educate voters on the availability of absentee ballots to successfully cast their vote this November,” she said Friday night. “With cities and towns finalizing their annual budgets in the spring, town clerks do not have the necessary funds built into their current budget to cover the costs of postage and staff to process the possible increase in applications.”

She joined Garofalo in suggesting people interested in mail-in ballots download the application from any town or city website, or from the state at CT.gov.

Ben Proto, chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, said Friday that town clerks he knows are unhappy with the potential cost. “You start talking about mailing out absentee ballot applications, and they have to be sent First Class mail and even with discounts on printing and postage, it’s 50 cents to a dollar per application,” he said. “You talking about a substantial cost.”

“I don’t see the fiscal reality behind it,” Proto said. “It’s another case of a Democrat not understanding fiscal constraints when it has huge impact.”

Gabe Rosenberg, general counsel and communications director for Merrill, said Friday that the $15 million in federal support for state elections last year,including cyber-security measures, was a one-time event in the pandemic, including the $5 million for expanded absentee-ballot access and collection boxes. That money does not exist this year.

“We share in the frustration, but it was Republicans in the legislature who tried to try to strip the power of local elected officials to send out absentee ballots to voters,” Rosenberg said. “I wish we had the resources to allow everyone to mail out absentee ballot applications, but we don’t. It was a once-in-a-century emergency.”

“To politicize it now takes major hubris,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said Saturday morning in response to Rosenberg.

Candelora described the absentee ballot procedures of last year as “an unmitigated disaster” that put undue pressure on local voting officials.

“I think generally speaking Republican opposition to the mail-in was a response to the sloppy implementation last year,” Candelora said, noting instances throughout the state of applications mailed to people who hadn’t lived in the state or voted in years. There was also a delay in getting ballots printed, adding added further problems for municipal staffs.

“That’s why we didn’t want to see a repeat performance of that,” Candelora said about the 2021 legislative session. “Why were ballots mailed to inactive voters? In order to improve a process as sacred as voting, there must be corrections for bad actions. I think any town clerk, Republican or Democrat would agree that the stress the secretary of the state put on local officials was challenging at best.”

[email protected] Twitter: @KenDixonCT

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