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Dan Haar: 100,000 unused ballots in dress rehearsal primary

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When Connecticut’s final tally for this bizarre primary election takes place the next day, we’ll see that voters never used about a third of all the mail-in ballots issued.

In all, the unreturned ballots will total about 100,000, out of about 300,000 issued, if my estimates are correct.

That says a lot about elections in the coronavirus era. It also says something about how the rushed Connecticut mail-in voting operation went – and how state and local election folks must scramble to prepare for Election Day in less than 12 months. weeks.

With these unreturned ballots, we’re talking about actual ballot papers assigned to specific people – the real bullets of democracy – and not just demands to vote.

There’s no way to put the unused ballot number into perspective for Connecticut because we’ve never had an election with most voters mailing or casting a ballot, rather than going to the polls. . A typical truancy count would be around 7 percent – compared to a total truancy of 59 percent in Tuesday’s primary.

By party, with votes still recorded Sunday afternoon, Democrats were 64% absent and Republicans much lower at 42%. The overall average was closer to the Democrats total because nearly three times as many Democrats voted as Republicans.

Ballot evaluation

The immediate question is, how did we do it?

Connecticut has done well thanks to a lot of interference from state and local election officials and U.S. Postal Service employees. But with the November 3 presidential election likely to see 1 million mail-in votes in Connecticut, we’ll certainly have to improve our game.

This is all the more true given that we have a President of the United States who uses the mail service as a stick against Democrats – his admission, not my accusation – in a desperate attempt to suppress the vote.

Many city clerks and clerks, as well as some Republican critics, say the voting operations did not go as smoothly as they should have. When I spoke to Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano about the 100,000 unused ballots, he said the slow delivery of ballots marred the primary.

“This is a testament to the catastrophe the secretary of state has caused in Connecticut,” said Fasano, a Republican from North Haven.

His point: Many of the 300,000 voters who requested mail-in ballots received them too late to be used, especially if they were going on vacation in elementary school.

It’s an unfair accusation, Secretary of State Denise Merrill’s office said, because the whole system didn’t start until May 20, when Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order allowing any voter to vote by mail. with no excuse for being out of town or disabled.

“We allowed hundreds of thousands of people to vote… and we built the plane while we flew it,” said Gabe Rosenberg, spokesperson for Merrill. “Were there the hiccups? Sure, but Connecticut has never had an election like this. “

Astonishing figures

Under Merrill, the state sent mail-in vote requests to all registered Republicans and Democrats – 1.2 million in all.

A state seller, Cathedral Corp. in Rhode Island, sent out 267,000 ballots. The other 20,000 people requested before July 24 were temporarily caught in limbo due to confusion between the state and municipal authorities. And requests filled directly by towns and villages likely pushed the number to over 300,000 on August 10, the day before primary.

How many have returned to town? As of Sunday, 188,165 were registered in both parties – about 152,000 Democrats. That number includes 3,300 who were rejected either because they arrived too late or because voters forgot to sign the envelopes.

The probable totals after all the votes are recorded in the central reporting system on the Merrill website bring the absentees to 205,000, maybe a little higher, by my projections.

That’s exactly ten times the number of absentees in the state’s last primary in 2018 – when many more people voted than in Tuesday’s election.

And that means 100,000 people have never made the round trip to the city and town halls with the frightened oval marks of freedom.

Some of these voters decided to vote in person. Some never managed to send their choice. Some decided not to bother with a presidential primary that didn’t matter on the whole, as Connecticut became the last state to assign delegates to President Donald Trump and the former vice president Joe Biden.

Republicans are raising charges of potential fraud in the expanded ballot. Yes, the potential is greater, as these 100,000 unused ballots clearly show. Some of these people could be registered in other states and fall through the cracks.

Vigilance is crucial and all polling stations should check off voters in electronic databases in addition to paper lists, starting in 2022. But actual and documented cases of fraud are about as common as two-way giraffes. heads and the benefits of postal voting are obvious.

Scaling for November

Merrill’s office will send ballot requests next month for the Nov. 3 election to all 2.1 million registered voters, including unaffiliated and underage party members. If the same patterns we see in Connecticut and other states hold true – and they will – we could see over a million requests to vote.

This will require increased communications between Merrill’s office and city clerks, who send and receive the ballots, and the clerks, who count them. This time around, said Lyda Ruijter, the town of Stamford outspoken, a town employee, “there were quite a few bumps in the system.

This included a computerized voter tracking system that was old to begin with, which had bugs in the massive ballot operation. And that included communication issues and cultural issues between different offices.

“The secretary of the state office did not understand how the operations in the city clerks’ offices worked and they did not allocate enough resources for the software to fix the bugs,” said Ruijter, who resigned to protest in June but agreed to overturn that decision. move.

But she added: “We did it. My team just seized the opportunity and the man worked hard.

Rosenberg, in Merrill’s office, said huge hurdles made the task brutally difficult to coordinate.

“We designed this whole process when there wasn’t a single city clerk’s office open,” he said, adding that “the drop boxes were a godsend when the postal service was down. .

He was referring to the post office boxes that Merrill had made and installed in cities, for voters to cast their ballots. The mail slowdown was due to Tropical Storm Isaias and Trump’s slowdown.

Ultimately, Rosenberg said, there were very few complaints from voters who did not receive the ballots in time to vote. Today, work is something that has forever sparked human endeavors, from war to consumer goods marketing: scaling up. In this, the dress rehearsal on August 11 was both a victory and a warning.

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