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Gov. Lamont signs executive order allowing absentee votes during CT primary

Politics

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Governor Ned Lamont has signed an Executive Order allowing registered voters to vote absentee in the Aug. 11 primary election.

Governor Ned Lamont said that while coronavirus spreads, he wants to help keep people safe. He said state government must make reasonable adjustments that reflect the current state of emergency while ensuring that the democratic process continues safely and securely.

“Nobody should need to make a decision between their health and their right to vote,” Governor Lamont said. “Our state has taken every responsible step to this point to ensure that our residents are safe, and the next step we must take is to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19 when Connecticut residents cast their ballots. We must guarantee access to the ballot, and this is a way to do that during these extraordinary circumstances. I do not take this decision lightly, and it is with the public health and welfare of residents in mind.”

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said plans to mail every registered voter in the state an application. They will need to fill out and return in order to obtain an absentee ballot. 

“Polling places will remain open, but every eligible Connecticut voter will be able to get an absentee ballot for the August primary if they want to avoid their polling place due to COVID-19,” she said.

Connecticut’s 2020 presidential primary was initially scheduled for April 28, but to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, Lamont signed executive orders rescheduling it, first to June 2 and then to Aug. 11.

Senator Len Fasano released the following statement:

I can understand the need for vulnerable populations and those with preexisting conditions to vote by absentee ballot. However, the process laid out in the Governor’s executive order is not simply addressing those vulnerable groups. The proposed process raises significant questions of constitutionality and questions related to the security of unattended drop boxes that would be used to collect ballots.

If even one piece of the state’s constitution is not upheld, it sets a dangerous precedent that any part of the constitution could be ignored or overruled by one person. Constitutional protections cannot be eviscerated by the stroke of a pen. No matter how much we may want to waive the language of the Constitution given the COVID-19 health crisis, we are bound to the documents that created our country and state and cannot legally do that. At times it can be easy to rationalize ignoring the Constitution. But no matter how well reasoned the intentions are, the act of circumventing the constitution is not a luxury any governor should resort to and begs for legal challenges.  

I also have significant concerns about the proposed drop box collection method for ballots which I have raised to the Governor’s administration and Secretary of the State. Setting up unattended outside drop boxes for people to submit their ballots contradicts state law which requires in-person return of absentee ballots for security purposes and to protect the integrity of the voting system. Drop boxes present unique security issues related to stuffing ballot boxes, which is why state law clearly emphasizes the importance of in-person absentee ballot returns. I strongly believe this policy must be revised and replaced with more secure methods for in-person ballot returns for those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of not being able to mail a ballot and not being comfortable walking into a clerk’s office, such as waiting in their car outside the clerk’s office, calling the clerk and having a runner meet them at their car. At the very least, drop boxes need to be located within a town clerks’ office which will act as a deterrent for untoward activity and place them in view of watchful eyes on election day.

Even if the ballot drop box issue is resolved, the constitutional questions remain. As Thomas Jefferson said: ‘The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the constitution.’ Once a government feels comfortable overriding the Constitution to fit a unique purpose, the more uncomfortable our liberties become. In 2014, the people of the State of Connecticut rejected, by a large percentage, a proposal to amend the Constitution and expand absentee voting. The situation today is unique and we can be innovative in how we help people access their right to vote. But to disregard the Constitution and to ignore that voters recently rejected similar proposals is a dangerous place to be.

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