If it’s not enough trying to keep pace with the high activity of absentee ballots, throw in the labor required to process close to 2,000 new voter registration cards and switchers from unaffiliated ranks to Democrats and now you have elections offices swelling with paperwork to meet the demands of the September 16 primary. It has forced elections officials and staff to work the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.
Both Democratic Registrar Sandi Ayala, 11 years on the job, and Town Clerk Alma Maya, nearly eight years, say this is the first time their respective staffs have had to put in time the Labor Day weekend before a primary.
In mid-July, the Democratic registration was approximately 38,000. It could eclipse 40,000 by primary day powered by a major push from the campaign of Joe Ganim to register new voters and switch unaffiliated voters. Ganim, however is not alone in this push. Independent advocacy groups in support of charter schools are also registering new voters that could bolster Mayor Bill Finch’s reelection. Finch backs charters schools that receive public funds but operate independently of traditional school districts.
Independent expenditures from education groups, labor and advocacy organizations have become a growing part of campaigns to assist the success or defeat of a candidate. By the time of primary day, the combined spending of Ganim, Finch and Mary-Jane Foster will eclipse a record $1 million.
All the paperwork has caused city election staff headaches. For instance, a new voter card is dropped off at the Registrar’s Office. An absentee ballot application is also filled out associated with the new voter. If the voter card information has not been processed due to the backlog, the absentee ballot cannot be sent because the new voter has not been entered into the system.
This upcoming week Ayala will start the process of conducting supervision of absentee ballot voting at about 10 designated locations in the city including the housing project P.T. Barnum Apartments that has a high volume of absentee ballot applications worked heavily by the campaign camps. The state of Connecticut has excuse-only absentee ballot voting. You must have a reason such as an illness or being away the date of the election to vote via absentee ballot. Registrars have authority to conduct supervision when more than 20 requests to vote by absentee ballots come from the same location. This enters an interesting argument, is it a specific entity location or a specific address? For instance, P.T. Barnum Apartments include many buildings with different street addresses. The apartments are being treated just as a specific location such as a self-contained senior citizen building. Could this become a court issue?
By law, no one can touch an absentee ballot except the voter, with a few exceptions such as immediate family or a designated health provider. Absentee ballot rules here. Part of the rationale behind supervised balloting allows electors to vote for the candidate of their choice without being strong-armed by campaign workers. A date and time is set for the voter to appear at a meeting room for instance of a senior building to fill out the absentee ballot card. If the electors do not fill out an absentee ballot the day of supervised voting they still have the option of going to their designated polling location on September 16. In the case of P.T. Barnum Apartment residents that is the adjacent Aquaculture School.
Under state law absentee ballots are processed by the Town Clerk’s Office, but are tabulated by the Registrar’s Office which is why that office oversees supervised balloting. The absentee ballots mailed to the Town Clerk’s Office are turned over to the Registrar’s Office the evening of the election. If supervised balloting is ordered, the Town Clerk mails out absentee ballots up to the first 20 requests from that address. The remaining applications are preserved for the date of the supervised balloting.
More than 2,000 absentee ballot applications have been dropped off at the Town Clerk’s office by political operatives, a majority by the Finch and Ganim camps struggling to bank every possible vote in a hotly contested race.
Staff in the Town Clerk’s Office match the name of the requested ballot with the name and address on the voter file.
A review of the first 1000 requested ballots shows more than 100 applications have faulty affiliations, are not registered or failed to mark a reason for not making it to the polling place.