By Meghan Peterson, Ph.D.
Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series seeking to understand what voting will look like in the upcoming 2020 primary and general elections in Connecticut broadly; Haddam & Killingworth specifically.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” United States Constitution, 15th Amendment
We are entering the hot, hazy days of summer. This has not been an ordinary summer for the United States, Connecticut, Haddam or Killingworth: COVID-19. Racial protests. Economic and financial rollercoasters. Oh, and four months ‘til the presidential election.
Americans typically vote in higher numbers in presidential elections than local, state, and midterm elections. For example, in U.S. presidential elections turnout has peaked as high as 81% in 1876 and dropped to its zenith at 48% in 1924.
In the presidential contest of 2016 between Democratic candidate Hillary R. Clinton and Republican candidate Donald J. Trump, approximately 139 million Americans voted, putting the turnout at 60.2% of the voting eligible population. In the 2012 presidential election between incumbent Democratic candidate Barack H. Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, turnout was an estimated 57.5%.
According to Connecticut’s Secretary of State Denise Merrill, voter turnout for presidential elections is between 75-80% – well above the national average range of 55-60%. Voter turnout in Haddam during the 2016 presidential election, for example, was about 82%. During the 2018 midterms, it was approximately 71%, according to data provided by Haddam Town Clerk Scott Brookes. Information on voter turnout can also be found at the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Election Center website. Voter turnout in Killingworth during the 2016 presidential election was approximately 87%.
Now, what about voting during a time some have dubbed the “era of COVID-19”? Some have wondered about a postponement or cancellation of the elections until a coronavirus vaccine is widely available. Others have called for all eligible voters to vote by absentee or mail-in ballot.
Through it all – war, peace, pandemic – the United States has never postponed, canceled or declared wholesale voting by absentee during any election cycle.
So, what will voting look like on the Aug. 11 Connecticut primary or Nov. 3, 2020 general elections?
Whether we are talking about voting on a national, state, or local level, the answer has become complicated. For our purposes, let us take a look at Connecticut and then examine our towns of Haddam and Killingworth more closely.
At the beginning of May, CT Secretary of State Denise Merrill released plans for voting in the Aug. 11 primaries and Nov. 3 general elections. The plans were specifically made for the coronavirus context.
The nuts and bolts of Merrill’s approach includes measures such as implementing heightened sanitation procedures at polling places, adding internet connectivity for towns where it is currently lacking, increasing availability of absentee ballots. According to Merrill, “there is no cost implication of the 2020 election plan to the state budget. The plan is 100% paid for by the three tranches of federal funding we have received for both cybersecurity and COVID 19 relief.” There is, however, a 20% state match that must be met within two years’ time; Merrill has stated that she has reached out to Connecticut congressional delegations to ask that the match either be lowered or eliminated altogether.
This series examines the latter component of the plans: absentee ballots and their expansion in Connecticut.
Connecticut: Aug. 11, 2020 Primary and Nov. 3, 2020 General Election
In response to questions from Connecticut State Representative and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (who announced in the spring that she would not seek re-election after serving 22 years in the CT General Assembly ) and State Rep. Vincent Candelora about the Secretary of State’s 2020 election plans, Merrill penned a letter.
In the letter, Merrill explains that the state has chosen American Security Cabinets as the vendor for the new ballot boxes, which will be used both for the primary and general elections. She writes, “…American Security Cabinets is an existing provider of secure dropboxes for elections with several California counties and other states.” In terms of security, the dropboxes are “permanently installed, just like a USPS mailbox, or a UPS/FedEx dropbox.”
Why use the ballot boxes from American Security Cabinets when the United States Postal Service is available and has boxes? Merrill answers, “Many voters who have voted by absentee ballot in the past have done so by physically dropping their ballots off in the Town Clerks’ office in their town. Unfortunately, Town Clerks’ offices are currently largely closed, we do not yet know when they will reopen, and even when they do, some voters may feel trepidation at entering their town hall to deliver their ballots. The secure dropboxes will allow a contactless delivery of absentee ballots at town hall for those voters who would feel more comfortable delivering their absentee ballots by that method.”
Finally, Merrill goes on to assure Klarides and Candelora that:
- absentee ballot applications will only be sent to active voters, not inactive voters
- absentee ballot applications will be sent to all active, eligible voters
- absentee ballots received after 8:00 p.m. on Election Day will not be counted
- absentee ballots will be counted on Election Day (Aug. 11, Nov. 3)
- the Election Day checklist will be pre-marked with voters whose absentee ballot is received before Election Day; absentee ballots received on Election Day will be held until after 8:00 p.m. (when polling places close), compared to the checklist, and will be rejected if voter has appeared in person
The above reassurances may spawn additional questions. For instance, what is an “inactive voter” in Connecticut? When an individual does not vote in four years, or when data indicate that the individual may have moved out of Connecticut, the registrar of voters of the individual’s town sends a canvass postcard to that person. If the voters does not return the postcard within 30 days (or the postcard is returned as undeliverable) they are moved off the active voter list and onto the inactive voter list. After four years of being on the inactive list, if the person has not done anything that resulted “in them filling out a new voter registration form…the voter is removed from voter registry.”
What if an inactive voter decides to appear at a polling place on Election Day? He must first fill out a new voter registration form. What if an inactive voter decides to send in an absentee ballot application? She must first fill out a new voter registration form. Yet, this latter scenario should not be much of a concern, correct? After all, Merrill just explained in her letter that absentee ballot applications will only be sent to active voters. Right?
What if an inactive voter shows up at a polling place at 7:59 p.m. on Election Day? Will that individual be able to fill out a new voter registration form and vote within the minute until closing time?
Who is responsible for handling the absentee ballots in those dropboxes? Who opens and counts them? Only the Town Clerk and Assistant Town Clerk can handle the absentee ballots. In Haddam, that means Town Clerk Scott Brookes and Assistant Town Clerk Ann Riebold. In Killingworth, that means Town Clerk Dawn Mooney and Assistant Town Clerks Ellen Nixon and Michele O’Toole.
Haddam: what will elections look like this year?
Under ordinary circumstances, Haddam Town Clerk Scott Brookes says that approximately 400 absentee ballots are received. How many absentee ballots are expected for the upcoming primary and general election cycle? Brookes says that he did not think “there would be a lot of interest in August [primaries] because those races really have already been decided, but interest seems to be very strong.”
There are 6,140 voters in Haddam. Let us imagine a situation in which 10% of those voters make use of the expanded absentee ballot provision under Merrill’s plan. Will two individuals at town hall be able to process 614 ballots? What if 20% of Haddam voters complete absentee ballot applications and send in absentee ballots? Now we are looking at over 1200 ballots to handle? What happens if 30%, 40%, or 50% send in absentee ballots?
Will we know the winner of the election on Election Night? A week from that time? A month from that time?
Killingworth: what will elections look like?
Killingworth Town Clerk Dawn Rees Mooney says that she “absolutely” anticipates receiving a higher volume of absentee ballots for both the August and November contests. She explains that she expects “an unprecedented number of absentee ballot applications to be submitted” to her office, “which will result in hundreds, if not thousands, of absentee ballots for the August primaries.” As an example, Mooney pointed out that on July 9, her office “received over 200 absentee ballot applications in the mail!”
There are 4,691 voters in Killingworth. Let us imagine a situation in which 10% of those voters make use of the expanded absentee ballot provision under Merrill’s plan. Will three individuals at town hall be able to process 469 ballots? What if 20% of Killingworth voters complete absentee ballot applications and send in absentee ballots? Now we are looking at more 938 ballots to handle? What happens if 30%, 40%, or 50% send in absentee ballots?
Again, will we know the winner of the election on Election Night? A week from that time? A month from that time?
These are just some questions to consider. In Part 2 of this series, we will focus on the topic of voter fraud and a legal challenge to CT Secretary of State Denise Merrill’s elections plans recently filed in the Connecticut Supreme Court. We will also feature conversations with both Haddam and Killingworth Town Clerks and Registrars of Voters to get their take on the upcoming election process.
 https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/03/trump-cancel-election-day-constitution-state-electors-coronavirus.html. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/us/politics/election-postponed-canceled.html
 The Republican Party is the minority party in the Connecticut General Assembly.
I was a resident of Higganum, Connecticut for about 30 years up until 2014 when I moved to Texas, became a resident, registered to vote got a drivers license. I have not voted in Connecticut since 2013 at the latest. We still own a home here but are only here for the summer months. I recently received an application for an Absentee Ballot from the Secretary of State. According to your article I should at least be an Inactive Voter and should have never received this application in the mail. Tell me there’s no room here for Election Fraud.
Talk about potential fraud. What about those voters who died this year in the thousands from the Corona Virus? Who is checking the Active Voter Lists to be sure that their names have been removed, particularly in the biggest Connecticut cities and Fairfield County that got hit the hardest? Have they already received Absentee Ballots? What about this potential at the national level? I wonder!
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