NB Politicus

New Britain Is Using Two Ballot Drop Boxes At City Hall For Now: Legislators Get Two More OK’d For Heavy Presidential Turnout

Posted in 2020 Election, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on October 4, 2020

By John McNamara | nbpoliticus.com

With absentee ballots expected to be mailed to voters in the coming days for the November 3rd Presidential Election, New Britain election officials are using two ballot drop boxes at New Britain City Hall. With an expected uptick in absentee voting because of COVID 19,  two more have been made available to the city by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

Republican Town and City Clerk Mark Bernacki told me that two drop boxes have been installed for both the August Primary and November election in accordance with the Secretary of the State’s requirements. One is outside City Hall’s main door at 27 West Main Street for “24/7 public access” and the other is outside the Clerk’s Office which is available during regular business hours.  Bernacki says the box outside his ground floor office is where walk-in voters may submit applications and ballots “in order to practice safe, social distancing in a busy lobby.” Both applications and the actual ballots may be dropped in the boxes instead of sending them by U.S. Mail.

In early September, Democratic State Representatives Rick Lopes, Peter Tercyak and Bobby Sanchez asked Secretary of the State Merrill for additional drop boxes for the City of New Britain and the request was granted. 

Democratic Registrar of Voters Lucian Pawlak and Democratic city councillors have reportedly urged Bernacki to deploy at least one more ballot drop box elsewhere in the city to expand access and make voting easier for a Presidential election where turnouts can exceed 70% compared to city and state elections where voter participation is significantly lower. Greater use of drop boxes was raised at September’s Democratic Town Committee meeting as local campaigns address the challenge of getting out the vote amid COVID 19 conditions. Firehouse and school locations have been suggested. So far Bernacki is confining use of the drop boxes to City Hall and is reluctant to set up more citing insufficient personnel and time constraints to  collect applications and ballots elsewhere.

“It would be very disappointing if the City Clerk did not use this opportunity to assist New Britain residents in accessing their right to vote,” said Rep. Lopes who is the Democratic candidate for 6th District State Senator. “It’s not asking too much to check a drop box once a day.  This pandemic has asked many sacrifices from all people. As public servants we need to accept the fact that when times are tough, we need to work harder and complain less.  I would ask that we all come together to find a way to help people vote instead of trying to find ways to not help.”

Election officials stress that all polling places will be open on November 3rd at their normal times from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The city has received federal funds to run the election to address the costs of voting amid a pandemic. “With 17 polling places, the registrar’s office is already planning on hiring more poll workers for Election Day and making sure everyone feels safe, which is the biggest challenge, The New Britain Herald’s Catherine Shen reported on September 25th. “They are also doubling up on absentee ballot counters to respond to the expected high influx of mail in ballots.”

Using ballot drop boxes as an alternative to the Post Office has become an ever more contentious issue in battleground states where voter suppression tactics by Republicans have gone into overdrive.

Last week Texas Governor Greg Abbott severely restricted the number of ballot boxes per county and a voter rights’ suit has been filed over an edict clearly designed to block voter turnout in urban and minority areas. Texas and other states also allow early voting in addition to voting by mail, an option that won’t be available to CT voters until a constitutional change occurs.

“Republicans are making it hard to vote even where drop boxes are set up and working,” according to a Washington Monthly story about the “GOP’s multi-front war on voting.” The report said: “In Ohio, for example, each county’s drop box will be located outside of that county’s board of elections buildings. That sounds innocuous enough, but consider Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati. It recently moved its board of elections site from downtown Cincinnati to the northern part of the city, making it much harder to access without a car.”

 

 

 

Stuck in the 18th Century: State Constitution Impedes Voting By Mail, Early Voting

Posted in 2020 Election, polling, state government, state politics, Voting, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on June 11, 2020

By John McNamara

Pandemic Prompts Legislation To Allow Absentee Voting Option For All In November But Ballot Reforms Shouldn’t Stop There

Our license plates proudly proclaim Connecticut the “Constitution State” because the state constitution was one of the colonial documents that guided the Founders of the nation when they wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

While a score of other states have ballot access via vote by mail and periods of early voting before Election Day, Connecticut is stuck in another century because of its storied Constitution and a restrictive absentee voting statute.

Amid the public health threat of pandemic the absentee voting statute is expected to change at a special session of the General Assembly in July. Governor Lamont, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Democratic legislative leaders are on board to extend absentee voting to every voter this year. As Merrill said to Meriden’s “Drinking Liberally” Zoom political forum on June 9th: “The last thing we want is to have people make a choice between their health and their vote.”

Opposition can be expected from Republican Party leaders intent on restricting voter access as much as possible. CT Republican Chair J.R. Romano is hard at work parroting the discredited assertions of voter fraud.

The need to add a public health emergency option to the absentee voting law would have been moot had a 2014 constitutional amendment referendum been approved in that year’s gubernatorial election. To the question “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?” a majority (52%) voted no. Proponents blamed an underfunded “Yes” campaign and the wording of the question for its defeat. A contributing factor was the fact that almost 150,000 more voters chose a Governor but never made it to the question at the bottom of the ballot. The amendment lost by 38,000. Approval would have empowered the legislature to enact “no excuse” absentee voting and paved the way for early voting that accounts for an increasing percentage of turnout in other states.

Connecticut law limits use of absentee balloting to those who will be out of town on election day, members of the armed forces, for an illness or physical disability, religious beliefs and for serving as an election official other than at a place than where you vote. It’s likely this summer’s legislation will extend the right to vote by mail when an illness-causing public health emergency exists to stay within the bounds of the constitution.

Secretary of the State Merrill says she is working with local registrars to open all polling places on November 3rd with any required social distancing that’s needed. A statewide secure mailing operation will be used to support voting by mail for any voter who wants to do so as long as the Legislature revises the absentee voting law. Her office has a $5 million COVID 19 federal grant to meet election costs but could probably use more. According to Merrill, election officials at the local and state level face a daunting task to ensure full voter access but that steps are being taken now “to make this a smooth election.”

One of the unintended consequences of COVID-19 may be to accelerate the movement to adopt post-pandemic statutory and constitutional changes allowing no excuse absentee voting and early voting in Connecticut.

In April the New Britain Democratic Town Committee (DTC) adopted a resolution to extend absentee voting to all this year and called for a new campaign to change the constitution. The DTC also endorsed the federal Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 now before Congress that would extend voter access and provide states with new funding for election security.

The nonpartisan CT-SAM Task Force, led by former Metro Hartford Alliance CEO and gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, is primarily pushing ranked-choice voting, term limits and open primaries but its platform also includes “removing obstacles to legal voter registration and….early voting, vote-at-home options, and/or by making election day a national holiday.”

Beyond this pandemic a broad-based and well supported coalition will be needed to make the permanent changes in the Constitution in a 2022 referendum. “It’s very difficult to change a constitution,” notes Secretary Merrill. “This situation has laid bare the limitations in Connecticut.” The hope is we can keep our venerable Constitution but tweak it enough to allow full voting access in the 21st century.