HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — This News 8 exclusive is a follow-up on a story we initially covered in August 2020.

More than 200 absentee ballots were delivered late to the Enfield town clerk during the presidential primary. Those votes did not count. The state elections enforcement officials called for a federal investigation. Now that report has been released.

News 8 Chief Political Correspondent Jodi Latina has been following this story for more than a year.

At the time, it was a mystery as to why so many ballots showed up late. It’s clear now that workers at the U.S. Postal Service Distribution Center in Hartford were at fault.

In August 2020, Mary Ann Turner was running for office in Enfield. She lost her race but found a higher calling: protecting voter integrity.

“Elections are sacred,” Turner said. “It’s never the voter’s fault. They should never be disenfranchised.”

Turner alerted News 8 back in 2020 to cartons of absentee ballots that arrived three weeks late to the town clerk for the presidential primary.

“I mean, it’s like someone needs to be responsible and the buck needs to stop someplace, and it’s not the voter,” Turner said.

More than 200 ballots had to be locked in a vault. Those votes didn’t count. The delivery deadline was missed. Why were the ballots late? An investigation was launched.

More than a year later, a 14-page federal report revealed human error at a local sorting facility.

Congressman Joe Courtney, a Democrat from the 2nd District, knows all too well that every vote counts.

“Well, as someone who got elected by 83 votes, you’re right, 200 is an unacceptable mistake and error,” Courtney said.

After seeing our story out of Enfield, Courtney contacted the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General. Under a Freedom of Information request, News 8 obtained the report.

It revealed, among other things:
• Enfield Post Office received ballots from the Hartford P&DC that did not bear an AFCS cancellation mark.
• Hartford P & DC management personnel advised the ballots were probably handled mistakenly
• Hartford P & DC management personnel could not explain the late delivery of ballots

Courtney said absentee ballots are supposed to be treated as First-Class Mail.

“And they, unfortunately, were treated as a business, which is a slower processing system that they have in the post office,” Courtney said.

Workers were retrained to treat the ballots as a priority and run them through the sorting machines. Courtney is now pushing the Postal Service Reform Act of 2021.

“Election integrity is a huge issue, and we really that’s just totally unacceptable and impermissible,” Courtney said.

In part, the bill calls for a 10-year strategic plan; including a public dashboard to track delivery performance.

“I think this investigation really rattled their cage,” Courtney said.

Turner, who lost her bid for the statehouse not because of the lost ballots, said voters deserve more.

“Give me an apology,” Turner said. “Just at least acknowledge that there was an error. I mean, we know the ballots are clearly marked. So, when they get to the post office, they know they’re ballots.”

Not only were election absentee ballots late, but Social Security benefits, Veterans benefits, and medications were also late. Turner said voting via technology may be the way to go.

“People are going to do it on their phones or their computers,” Turner said. “We’re just going to walk away from the paper ballots as we have with people paying their bills.”

In 2020, 367,000 people voted in Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District. It’s unclear whether voters were ever alerted that their vote didn’t count. Officials said if you can’t vote in person, using absentee ballot drop boxes outside town hall is the best way to ensure your vote counts.

Meantime, Congress passed the Postal Service Reform Act of 2021 measure. The bill is now stalled in the U.S. Senate. It’s unclear when lawmakers will take up the reform bill again.