By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
Masks encouraged, not required, to vote at polls
WEST HARTFORD — No Connecticut voters can be turned away from polling places on Election Day for not wearing a mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
The state’s mask wearing mandate will apply everywhere else, except inside balloting locations, though voters will have to remain 6 feet apart in voting lines, and the number of voters inside the polls will be limited.
The requirement to wear masks or cloth face coverings cannot be enforced inside polling places because voting is a constitutionally guaranteed right.
“We, by law, cannot refuse anyone their right to vote. However, we are, shall we say, strongly encouraging people to come with masks,” said Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill, the state’s chief election official. “If they don’t have one, many will be offered one, if they have forgotten theirs, but if they are absolutely insistent that they cannot, or will not wear a mask, we will make some accommodation for those folks to make sure that they are not disenfranchised.”
MERRILL OUTLINED PUBLIC HEALTH PROTOCOLS for in-person voting during a news conference Tuesday outside West Hartford Town Hall with Gov. Ned Lamont, Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the acting public health commissioner, and Sue W. Larsen, the president of the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut.
If a voter is unable to wear a mask, or if a voter refuses to wear one, the options include giving the individual an opportunity to return to their car to get their mask without losing their place in line, or offering them a mask.
If roomy enough, polling places could provide a separate voting location segregated away from other voters. If not, voters could be offered options to complete their ballot outside the polling place, or fill out a provisional ballot in their car, and leave the completed ballot with a poll worker.
Larsen said hand sanitizer will be on hand, and polling places will be cleaned during the day. She said some polling places will offer voters disposable pens or pencils to fill out ballots, or use disposable place mats at voting stations.
“Let me just emphasize: Nobody will be allowed to endanger someone else’s health,” Merrill said.
The Secretary of the State’s Office is advising local election officials that if any voter becomes unreasonable, or attempts to interfere with the process of voting, they should be removed from the polls by the moderator, or by a police officer, if necessary.
Merrill reported a record 2,295,644 people had registered to vote ahead of Tuesday’s pre-election registration deadline. There is also same-day, Election Day registration in Connecticut.
There is a one-time change that is allowing anybody concerned about being exposed to the coronavirus in polling places to cast an absentee ballot in the 2020 elections. Ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
THROUGH MID-DAY TUESDAY, Merrill reported 673,811 applications for absentee ballots had been processed.
“That is a lot of absentee ballots. It could get up to 700,000 before we are done,” she said
In contrast, 129,480 voters cast absentee ballots in the last presidential election four years ago. Some 2,532 ballots were rejected for various reasons, so only 126,948 were counted
A steady stream of West Hartford voters deposited their completed absentee ballots in the two state-provided drop boxes that were set up outside town offices during the mid-day news conference Tuesday.
“Those were not Hollywood extras coming in and voting,” Lamont said. “I think it gives you an idea of how important this election is, and what is going on.”
To date, there have been about 68,640 cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut since early March, more than 12,000 hospitalizations, and nearly 4,600 deaths.
Despite COVID-19 cases increasing in the state, Gifford, an epidemiologist, said she believed in-person voting is being made as safe as it can be made.
“I plan to vote in-person, and I think it is going to be a safe experience for the voters of Connecticut,” she said.
Lamont has previously said he also plans to vote in-person, while wearing a mask and maintaining a social distance.
Gifford advised voters going to polling places to pick times when lines will be thinnest.
“The busiest times at the polls is the first thing in the morning and at the end of the day,” she said. “So, if you can plan to come at mid-day when there will be fewer people queuing up to vote.”