Greenwich voters recently received two important pieces of mail.
The Secretary of State’s office mailed out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in Connecticut.
The second was a postcard from the US Postal Service that went to the entire country.
On a DTC forum Wednesday night, Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill described the postcard mailing that suggested voters “add postage on the return envelope if needed” as “unfortunate,” but that Connecticut ballots will be mailed out with postage paid stamped envelopes.
“My question of course is, if you have enough money to mail postcards to every single citizen in the United States, can’t you pick up the mail? Really?” she asked, adding that the caveat about extra postage was perceived by some as voter suppression.
“With all the delays we know are there, despite whatever you hear from the national level – there will be a real challenge getting things in the mail in a timely way,” she added.
She said ballot boxes are popular and offer a good way to bypass the US Postal Service.
As for grant money for additional ballot boxes, she said the state purchased an additional 50.
“We’re giving out the extra 50 in order of population – to the top 25 largest towns, and Greenwich is one of them,” she said. “There are a few towns that might be willing to give up one of theirs for Greenwich, so we’ll look into it.”
The two existing ballot boxes are both downtown – one outside Town Hall and one at Greenwich Police headquarters.
Merrill said, “faith in the electoral process is on the ballot.”
“I get up every day trying to make sure that we maintain the best, most fair, most transparent election process that we can in this terrible time,” she added. “It will be a challenge. I talk every day to my colleagues across the country…The pressure we are all under from legal challenges – my office has been sued already four times this year. This will be the most litigious election ever in the country, and it hasn’t even happened yet.”
Merrill said the other great threat to elections was Russian interference and technological threats.
“At the same time we’re fighting to make sure people have their voting rights on one front, we have to make sure we are fighting off these foreign interferences on another front,” she continued.
She said federal grant funding, about $15 million in Connecticut, was being used to target technical challenges and make sure every town has a secure voting system.
“We had to make sure people never have to make a choice between their health and their vote. That’s why we’re doing all this. It’s not just an exercise of trying to get everybody to vote by mail.”Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill
Merrill said she’d spoken to Greenwich’s town clerk earlier in the day who said her staff was ready.
Greenwich’s Republican registrar Fred DeCaro said in an email that he did not have an issue with the postcard mailing.
“In the case of Connecticut laws, the postcard is accurate, and I’m glad the post office is reassuring people of their commitment to Election Mail,” DeCaro said.
“I support all efforts to make people think and act promptly. That includes this postcard, and an email from Governor Lamont which came out the next day,” he added.
“It is surprising how many people don’t think about the basics of mailing a letter,” he continued. “We received back hundreds of ballots, which had no return address on the envelope. That made it impossible to track and contact many voters. While I don’t see much of a local story here, the main point is people should be smart and don’t delay if they want to vote by Absentee Ballot.”
The Democratic Registrar agreed time was of the essence.
“I believe the suggested time frames are adequate,” she said in an email. “Most mail will arrive if mailed at the suggested times, but we know from our analyses that some absentee ballots likely will not arrive in time to be counted if they are mailed just one week before election day.”
“The strong recommendation if voting by absentee ballot is do not dawdle at any point in the process,” she added. “Take advantage of Greenwich’s ballot boxes where you can deposit your absentee ballot application and ballot.”
In a Zoom forum on Sept 14, Hagerty said she recently attended a registrar of voters conference.
“The directive is to report, if possible, on election eve the tallies from polling places. There are extra days allowed for reporting absentee ballot totals in Greenwich. We’ve been working hard to plan for a large number of absentee ballots,” she said.
And while she acknowledged the ballots from the ballot boxes go directly to the Town Clerk, bypassing the US Postal Service, she advised voters who live in Greenwich but are out of town and must rely on the US Postal Service, to complete all parts of the process as promptly as possible.
She said in the Sept 14 forum that her understanding was the town clerk’s office was not planning on additional drop boxes. “I was hoping for at least one additional drop box,” she said.
Reached by phone on Friday, Sept 18, Assistant Town Clerk Kim Spezzano said each ballot box has to be well lit, bolted to the ground and monitored by surveillance camera 24 hours a day.
Also, she said staff from the town clerk’s office are required to have a police escort each time they empty the ballot boxes. For that reason she said it made sense to have the two ballot boxes located where they are.
Spezzano said her department is already stretched because five years ago Town Clerk office staff was cut from five to three. She said the Town Clerk’s office received over 7,000 absentee ballots for the August primary, which is a high number for a primary, especially considering the nominees for US President were already virtually certain.
“All the phone does is ring,” she said. “I had to explain over and over to people (that it was a Primary) who said, ‘I want to vote for President.’ They thought they were voting for President. There were irate people.”
“The reason why we put the second ballot box at Greenwich Police Dept was to have someone physically watching them in the police station. That makes people feel more secure.”
As for having additional ballot boxes she said, “For time’s sake, it’s not feasible.”
Ballot applications have been coming in since August, and as of Friday she said about 5,000 had been received.
“We just got dropped two trays of mail,” she said, adding that on Oct 2 the ballots will be mailed out.
On the Secretary of State website, voters can track their absentee ballot.