Is an election viable during a global pandemic?


HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Elections in Connecticut have survived surprise snowstorms and hurricanes. But is an election viable during a global pandemic?

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said they are planning carefully.

“This is such a crazy situation,” Merrill said. “We’ve never encountered something like this and its very difficult to plan. We don’t know how many people will come out to vote.”

Merrill speaks weekly with election officials around the state. The presidential primary has been pushed to June 2. It will be the first election under new COVID-19 rules.​

“We know people are concerned and may not come out to vote if the polling place is not safe.”

The state was granted $5.4 million in federal aid through the CARES Act for election safety and security. The state will kick in another million.​

There are 740 polling places around the state. Some will have to be moved. Town registrars are being asked to update emergency contingency plans.

“If a polling place becomes unusable, which I would argue this is, then we are able to move it,” added Merrill.

In a normal election year, five percent of voters use absentee ballots. Secretary Merrill has asked the governor to use his executive powers to change state laws, allowing people to vote by mail “due to illness.”

You would get an absentee ballot application, fill it out, send it to the town clerk, get the ballot back, vote and mail it in.

Secretary Merrill said anything we do is going to be just for the primary at this point. Though, she and her staff are looking ahead to the general election in the fall.

State Senator Will Haskell is pushing for a more streamlined process: Online absentee ballot applications for voters.

“They want to make their voice heard, but they will not be participating if it means jeopardizing their public health,” Haskell said.

If a June primary is viable, local election officials will be asked to follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines.​

Connecticut Presidential Primary Polling Places​ would be directed to do the following:
⦁ Ensure bathrooms are supplied with soap​.
⦁ Provide a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
⦁ Incorporate social distancing.
⦁ Practice routine cleaning of tables, doorknobs and handles.​
⦁ Disinfect voting machines​.

“Participate in the democracy that is what makes us strong together,” Merrill said. “No one should have to choose between their health and voting.”​

Most importantly, Secretary of the State said she wants people to feel safe and vote.

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