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Pandemic or not, Connecticut expects huge turnout as voters head to polls today


Secretary of the State Denise Merrill conducted a windswept news conference Monday about election preparations. She expects a turnout at at least 75%. At right, Sue Larsen, the president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut.

Ignored by the presidential campaigns as a sure thing for Joe Biden and a lost cause for Donald J. Trump, the election in Connecticut today turns on two questions: Will the expected Democratic wave be moderate or huge? And how will it shape the General Assembly?

About 636,000 of the state’s 2.3 million voters already had voted before the polls opened at 6 a.m  under the provisions of a temporary law that allows every voter to use an absentee ballot for the first time due to a suddenly resurgent COVID-19 pandemic. Nationally, a stunning 99.6 million votes had been cast, according to the U.S. Elections Project.

Gov. Ned Lamont said public safety officials are monitoring social media for evidence of efforts to disrupt voting or stage protests of the results.

“It’s not going to happen in Connecticut,” Lamont said. “Connecticut is going to be careful. We’re going to respect the power of the vote and respect the decisions.”

State officials pledged to deliver a safe voting experience at the polls, followed by a transparent and accurate count — albeit one that may not not be completed until Wednesday due to the large number of absentee ballots.

“Vote confidently. Everybody who wants to vote in this state will have the opportunity to cast their vote, and everybody who has cast their vote will have their vote counted,” Attorney General William Tong said. “We’re going to see to that.”

Lamont, a Democrat at the mid-point of his first term, campaigned over the weekend to reinforce a get-out-the-vote message aimed at exploiting Trump’s low-approval rating in the state, his dismal showing here in 2016, and a reluctance by Republicans to campaign for his reelection.

“I’m feeling pretty ramped up, amped up,” Lamont said. “I think we want to send a signal the last four years have been un-American, what’s going on in Washington. And I want a loud repudiation of that.”

Republicans say voters can repudiate the president without punishing the down-ballot ticket.

“I don’t see a blue tsunami coming our way,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who is not seeking re-election.

A record 2.3 million voters are eligible to vote in today’s election. New registrations have favored Democrats, who now outnumber Republicans in Connecticut, 850,046 to 480,026. The biggest bloc are the unaffiliated voters, 939,679.

Animus towards the president drove an unusually high turnout in the 2018 mid-term contests, helping Democrats here make their first legislative gains in a decade and leaving them confident about expanding their current majorities of 22-14 in the Senate and 91-60 in the House.

Five of the six Republican state senators facing rematches with their 2018 opponents are defending seats in districts that Trump lost in 2016 — by wide margins in four cases.

At the top of the target list is Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia. He won by just 85 votes in a recount over Jorge Cabrera, a Democrat of Hamden, in the 17th District. Trump lost by 9 points in the 17th, running strong in Naugatuck Valley towns like Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Derby and Naugatuck, while losing big in the New Haven suburbs of Hamden and Woodbridge.

Sen. Gennaro Bizzarro, R-New Britain, is seeking re-election in a district Trump lost by 23 points. Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, are in districts the president lost by 13 points and 14 points, respectively.

While Trump repeatedly has claimed baselessly that voting by absentee ballots is rife with fraud, election officials in Connecticut stress the security measures in place to ensure that no one casts an absentee ballot and then votes again at the polls. Only absentee ballots that arrive in today’s mail or are cast in drop boxes at a voter’s local town hall will be counted.

In Connecticut, absentee ballots are cast inside two envelopes. The outer one is marked with a bar code and the voter’s name and signature. The inner one contains the ballot and is meant to ensure the secrecy of the vote.

When a ballot is received at the local town clerk’s office prior to election day, it is scanned into a statewide voter system, and that person’s name is marked as having voted on a list used at the polls to check in voters.

Absentee ballots that arrive in the mail or are placed in secure drop boxes on election day are set aside until the polls close, when election officials confirm that those voters did not also vote at the polls.

“We’ll have a verification process at the end of the night to make sure. Every person gets one vote,” said Sue Larsen, the president of Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut.

The absentee ballots cast before election day can be counted beginning at 6 a.m. today. They are run through optical scanners, as is the case at the polls.

“We’ll go through until we’re finished,” Larsen said. “Some of the small towns may be able to be finished on election night. The … medium to larger towns and cities are probably going to do some of the counting on Wednesday.”

Communities have 96 hours to file their official results with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

To help resolve or monitor issues at the polls, the Connecticut Bar Association is arranging for 175 volunteer lawyers to serve as non-partisan designees of the secretary at the polls.

“We will objectively assess voting situations or inconsistencies brought to us by the Secretary of the State’s office, report back, and resolve issues promptly by communicating Secretary Merrill’s directives to the voting moderator,” said Amy Lin Meyerson, the CBA president.

Voters will be asked to wear a mask and observe social-distancing protocols at polling places, but curbside voting and other accommodations, such as providing them separate space, are available to voters who refuse to wear a mask or cannot wear one for medical reasons.

“The bottom line is no one will be allowed to endanger anyone else’s health,” Merrill said. “You have a constitutional right to vote. You don’t necessarily have a constitutional right to vote in a certain way.” 

Election moderators can deny access to a voter who refuses to wear a mask and declines to cast a ballot curbside or in a separate space.

“We’ve gone over this issue over and over and over again. The people of this state, the people of this country have a constitutional right to vote,” Tong said. “But you do not have a constitutional right to endanger other people, and you don’t have a constitutional right to make other people sick.”

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