Last-Minute Guidance on Pre-Processing Absentee Ballots Disregards State Law, Adds More Confusion and Puts Many Towns and Voters at a Disadvantage

October 30, 2020

Today Secretary of the State Denise Merrill issued guidance enabling local officials in towns that have opted in to pre-processing absentee ballots to notify voters if they did not sign their absentee ballot envelope and give them an opportunity to vote in person. Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) is raising concerns about this new guidance which conflicts with state statute and legislative intent. Sen. Fasano says the new guidance adds more confusion and raises issues of fairness to voters in towns that did not opt in to pre-processing of absentee ballots, to voters who don’t submit their absentee ballots until Election Day, and to voters who may not be reached because there is no procedure in place to ensure each and every voter who did not sign an envelope is given the same opportunity.

“Secretary Merrill has again caused more confusion, created issues of fairness for voters, and shifted even more burdens onto town clerks just days before the election,” said Fasano. “This is yet another piece of guidance issued to try to fix a plan that she put into action that was never well thought out. As much as she would like to, she cannot change state statute that has been carefully crafted to ensure fairness to all voters. Her latest guidance flies in the face of state laws designed to make sure all voters in every town have equal protections and the same opportunities, rules and procedures to protect their votes.

“Reaching out to voters to cure alleged defects in absentee ballots is not allowed under our election laws, neither is it allowed under Public Act 20-4. Legislative leaders discussed this very issue when the bill to allow for early processing of absentee ballots was being drafted. Legislative leaders reached the conclusion that they did not want to put an unfair burden on town clerks to be responsible for reaching out to individuals who did not sign inner envelopes because unless they could guarantee every single person who did not sign was contacted and their ballot corrected it would not be a fair process.

“Secretary Merrill’s last minute guidance is now making it grossly unfair for towns that didn’t opt in to pre-processing. Many towns may have passed on the opportunity to participate in early envelope opening because their towns determined they could handle the opening of all absentee ballot envelopes on election night and because the statute is clear that the early processing does not give towns the ability to cure when someone does not sign an inner envelope. Telling towns to essentially disregard the statute and work to reach certain voters who did not sign their envelopes puts towns that chose not to participate at a disadvantage. If outreach to those who did not sign was allowed from the start perhaps other towns would have participated. Given the specific language of the statute and the intent of the legislative leaders in drafting that language, it is unfair to change the rules and allow the opportunity to cure in some towns and not in other towns. It raises questions of fairness to all voters.”

“This also raises questions of fairness to individual voters. If a voter submits their absentee ballot in a drop box on Election Day, they won’t have the same protections and opportunity to vote in person if an error is found on their inner envelope as someone who submitted a ballot days before. In addition, Secretary Merrill’s guidance states that officials ‘may use their best efforts’ to notify voters. Does this mean they can notify some, but not all voters with defects? Where does this end? This is not equal protection for all voters,” said Fasano.

Sen. Fasano pointed to the legislation passed in special session which states:
Section 5(a)(4) If the statement on the inner envelope has not been signed as required by section 9-140a of the general statutes, such inner envelope shall not be opened or the ballot removed therefrom, and such inner envelope shall be replaced in the opened outer envelope which shall be marked “Rejected” and the reason therefor endorsed thereon by the counters;