MERIDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Election officials in Meriden are taking emergency measures to make sure all votes are processed and counted in the city. But some election watchers are crying foul.
“It’s unusual that we had to move but it’s not anything that’s never been planned for, because there’s always emergencies,” said Democratic Assistant Absentee Ballot Moderator, JoAnn Noonan.
“We followed every rule, every part of the statute,” added Republican Absentee Ballot Moderator Mark Dupuis.
The combination of Coronavirus restrictions and the sky-high number of absentee ballots pouring into the city forced officials to make a last-minute move from city hall to the local senior center, so volunteers could process roughly 8,000 ballots while staying socially distant.
Former Mayor and Republican State Central Committee Member, Manny Santos, told News 8 the move was “irregular, problematic and troubling.”
Santos fears moving ballots opens a window for potential fraud. But both Democratic and Republican absentee ballot moderators assure News 8 the change of custody was secure.
“We were with the ballots, the vans were locked up; they were never unsecure,” said Noonan.
“They were kept in a locked, city vehicle, and they were transported with a representative, a Republican and Democratic representative,” added Dupuis. “The two top people at this polling place were with the ballots at all times.”
They said there are also multiple independent observers from both parties monitoring the ballot processing. Votes can only be counted on Election Day, but volunteers can get the ballots ready for counting and flag any that are not signed so observers can reach out to those voters who may need to recast their vote.
Meriden is not the only city where citizens raised concerns over absentee ballots with News 8. In New Haven, leaders and volunteers for one political campaign told us they discovered about 35 seniors at multiple senior housing complexes who alleged they had submitted their voter registration applications, but never received their mail-in ballots.
Volunteer Van Spruill spent the weekend driving those seniors to re-register and cast their ballot in-person.
“We’ve been going door to door and bringing people down here,” said Spruill.
“We’re up to about 16,000 absentee ballots that were issued and mailed out,” said City Clerk Michael Smart. “We have about 12,000 that have already come back, so they’re coming back. the trend is good. We’ve never had numbers like this before.”
Meanwhile, News 8 reached out to the Secretary of State’s office for comment on Meriden’s ballot move. In a statement, officials said:
“There is nothing preventing the registrars from changing locations, and the statute doesn’t address a process for moving the ballots so long as a secure chain of custody is preserved. This is something that happens at the local level and they would not go to our office for approval.”
“The goal is to count them as quickly as possible,” said Dupuis.
“Nothing is going to happen to them,” assured Noonan. “We’re going to get through this just fine without anyone losing a vote.”