State distributes grants to help process absentee ballots

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill on Sept. 8 announces the distribution of $2.3 million in federally funded grants to assist towns and cities administer the Nov. 3 general election. -PAUL HUGHES/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

HARTFORD — Two-thirds of Connecticut voters are expected to cast absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 general election, Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill said last week.

Her office used that assumption to distribute more than $1.4 million in federally funded grants to help the state’s 169 cities and towns process this unprecedented number of absentee ballots.

It was the largest chunk of a $2.3 million allocation announced Sept. 8 that also includes $865,500 to safeguard polling places against COVID-19 infection, and another $50,000 to 20 cities and towns to assist with Election Day registration. All of this funding is being provided through the CARES Act.

The total amounts ranged from $2,840 for the smallest town of Union to $98,539 for the most populous city of Bridgeport. Naugatuck is receiving a total of $19,792, Prospect $5,983 and Beacon Falls $4,703.

“We all know why we are doing this. It is fundamentally to allow every voter the opportunity to vote safely and securely,” Merrill said. “Whether they vote by absentee ballot under special rules this year or whether they go to the polling places, it is our job to ensure that every voter has the opportunity to cast their ballot.”

The legislature and Gov. Ned Lamont approved temporary changes to election laws to allow voters concerned about COVID-19 at polling places to vote absentee in the 2020 election. Voters who prefer to vote in person can still do so on Election Day. Polling places in the state will be open as usual, with precautions in place, for voters to cast their ballots.

The Secretary of the State’s Office is estimating 1,160,865 absentee ballots will be cast in the Nov. 3 elections for president, U.S. House and the General Assembly. This represents 66% of the 1,758,873 votes anticipated at this time.

In contrast, 130,639 absentee ballots were counted in the last presidential election in 2016. That represented nearly 8% of the 1,675,955 overall votes cast.

Merrill said the presidential preference primaries and other party nomination contests Aug. 11 represented a test run for the general election.

While turnout statistics have yet to be completed, she said approximately 68% of Democratic and Republican voters cast absentee ballots. The available numbers showed Democrats voted absentee in significantly larger numbers than Republicans.

Merrill announced her office started mailing out absentee ballot applications to every eligible voter Sept. 4. Absentee ballots will become available Oct. 2.

Merrill encouraged voters to return applications and absentee ballots as quickly as possible. She also recommended people take advantage of secured drop boxes at town and city halls to avoid possible mailing delays.

The Secretary of the State’s Office is using more than $1.4 million in CARES Act funding to help city and town clerk offices process, mail out and count the record-breaking number of absentee ballots. This grant assumes 80% of registered voters will vote in 2020 and two-thirds will cast absentee ballots.

The absentee ballot grant amounts ranged from $340 for Union to $69,039 for Bridgeport. Naugatuck is getting $10,792, Prospect $3,483 and Beacon Falls $2,203.

Every town and city also is receiving a safe polls grant. The amounts range from $2,000 for the towns of Goshen, Coventry and Old Saybrook to $40,000 for the city of New Haven. Naugatuck is getting $9,000, Prospect and Beacon Falls are each getting $2,500.

There are 20 cities and towns that are getting $2,500 each to help with Election Day registration based on past experience. Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and Prospect are not among the 20 towns and cities.

State law permits anyone to register and vote in person on Election Day who meets the eligibility requirements for voting in this state. A total of 35,096 people signed up in 2016 and only 167 of their votes were not counted.

Merrill said towns and cities will be able to decide how to spend the absentee ballot, safe polls and Election Day registration grants.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.

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