Wilton Town Clerk sets the stage for November election
WILTON — Rehearsal is over, now it’s time for the main act. That’s the scene for the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 3.
But judging from miscues with the presidential preference primary “dress rehearsal” in August, a lot of work needs to be done in order to get the election properly set for November.
Town clerks across the state, including Wilton Town Clerk Lori Kaback, have been cast in a major role in the upcoming election — overseeing the distribution and receipt of absentee ballots.
With the coronavirus pandemic, and the governor’s approval for no-excuse absentee ballot voting, most voters opted to vote that way in the August primary.
With the primary open only to voters registered with a specific party, just 72,000 votes were cast in person, while nearly 227,000 were cast by absentee ballot, unofficial records show.
This November, it is anticipated that as many as 60 percent of voters’ ballots — more than one million in Connecticut — could be cast by absentee ballot.
During the primary, there were a number of problems with the distribution of absentee ballots, placing a heavy burden on town clerks, registrars, and ballot counters.
To deal with the increased volume of absentee ballots, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill hired Cathedral Corp., a Rhode Island-based mailhouse, to send the ballots to primary voters.
There was a mixup however, and a week before the primary more than 20,000 ballots had not been sent out in time. That left town clerks scrambling to get ballots to the voters.
“We received an email with a spreadsheet listing voters who did not get their ballots mailed to them. We had approximately 195 to 200 absentee ballots to get out in Wilton,” said Kaback.
Once the ballots were out, other problems arose.
Some ballots came back too late to be counted, and others were discarded because they were filled out incorrectly.
Prompted by disruptions to mail delivery caused by Tropical Storm Isaias, which hit the state on Aug. 4, the deadline for the return of absentee ballots was extended from Aug. 11 to Aug. 13.
“In Wilton, we issued 1,792 Democratic absentee ballots, but only 1,367 came back on time,” Kaback said.
Kaback, who lives in Danbury, had an issue getting her own absentee ballot. Her ballot application was stamped on July 9 by the Danbury Town Clerk’s office. However, the postmark on her ballot was Aug. 1. “The ballot should have been sent by the mail house and available July 21,” she said.
To add to the mix, there was voter confusion with the ballot’s instructions and mailing procedure.
“The state had promised there would be an instructional campaign for voters on how to fill out the absentee ballots, but that never happened,” Kaback said.
Some ballots placed in the special primary drop box in front of the Wilton police station were not properly put in their outer envelope. “The state said we could still accept those ballots,” Kaback said.
Overall, Kaback called voter information on absentee ballot voting “very bad” with not enough communication to the public to understand the process.
She also said communication between the secretary of the state’s office and town clerks was not very good or done in a timely manner, citing the ballot mix-up by the mail house.
Immediately after the primary, the town clerk’s office started gearing up for the November election, Kaback said.
The secretary of the state announced it will not be using a third-party mail house for the presidential election. Instead, town clerks will be in charge of mailing an estimated one million absentee ballots for the November election.
A number of towns have complained they do not have the financial resources to undertake such a large task, but Kaback said Wilton is prepared.
“I feel a little let down by the secretary of the state’s office, but Wilton will be OK because there is a good support system here,” she said.
Kaback said she has had several conversations with First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and Human Resource Director Sarah Taffel, and they will be getting additional staff to work on the election. “Wilton will be fine, we’ll be working a lot of hours. But we will handle it,” she said.
For the Nov. 3 election, the secretary of the state’s office will be sending out applications for absentee ballots to all eligible (active, registered) voters on a rolling basis between Sept. 8 and Sept. 11.
All voters are eligible to vote by absentee ballot for the 2020 election by checking the “COVID-19” excuse on the application. Applications will be mailed to voters after Labor Day, but voters should be aware that the absentee ballots themselves cannot be distributed prior to Oct. 2, by Connecticut law.
The state is encouraging voters to use the secure ballot drop boxes in their towns to return their absentee ballot applications and the ballot themselves, in order to be sure that all critical mailings are received in a timely fashion.
Kaitlyn Krasselt contributed to this story.