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Mail-in vote plan not perfect, but preferable

That 100,000 of the 1.2 million absentee ballot applications mailed to Democrats and Republicans in Connecticut for the Aug. 11 primary were returned as undeliverable was eye opening, but it is not reason to abandon Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s plan to assure citizens can safely vote in the general election Nov. 3.

The high number of returned ballots suggests many registrars of voters are doing a poor job of canvassing and purging voter lists of individuals who have moved or died. And there is no way of knowing how many more ended up at households where registered voters no longer live, but which did not get returned.

Seeking to put a positive spin on the situation, Merrill said registrars now have 100,000 names they can remove from the list of registered Republicans and Democrats, cleaning up the voting rolls before the general election. And, she noted, while 8% of the applications were returned, that compares well, given the average 15% return rate the National Association of Secretaries of State has found for election mailings.

That’s sort of a like a student telling a parent that the “C” she got on a test was not so bad because other kids got a “D.” Little Susie would be told to set her sights higher, and so should those running our elections.

The point of the mailing exercise is to make it convenient and safe for citizens to vote during the ongoing health emergency, even if the viral outbreak again grows more severe. Applications were sent to every registered Democrat and Republican because only those with party affiliation can vote in the primary. Voters can use those applications to obtain absentee ballots, avoiding lining up in person to vote.

Locally, the biggest election in the primary is the selection of the Republican candidate to face Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney in the Second District. Endorsed candidate Thomas Gilmer is opposed by Justin Anderson.

Merrill plans to use the same mailing process for the general election, when unaffiliated and minor-party voters, representing 43% of those registered, will also get applications. If the math holds, nearly 100,000 of those can be expected to be marked “return to sender” as well.

State Republicans want to abandon the plan. It has been criticized by such party leaders as Republican state Chairman J.R. Romano, state Senate Republican Minority Leader Len Fasano of New Haven, and House Minority Leader Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby.

In Connecticut, the state Constitution is restrictive about absentee ballot use. Among the reasons to apply for an absentee ballot is “sickness.” Gov. Ned Lamont, for the purposes of the Aug. 11 primary, issued an executive order that “sickness” can include concerns about catching COVID-19.

But Lamont’s emergency executive authority pertaining to the pandemic expires before the November vote. To clarify things, he is asking the legislature, meeting in special session, to formally expand the definition of sickness to include concerns tied to a health crisis.

On Tuesday, Fasano said he supported expanding absentee voting justifications to the pandemic. “I know many Republicans agree with me that this is a prudent step,” he said. That’s a significant development, raising the prospects of bipartisan support.

But Fasano opposes sending out applications to all voters. He wants to instead leave it to them to seek their own applications, if they so choose. Given all those returned ballots his fear, he said, is fraud.

Fraud is a possibility. Some, we suppose, could chance time in prison by applying for ballots using applications mistakenly sent to their addresses, then also voting in person. A dominant person in a household could control all ballots.

But we see no path to widespread fraud. In fact, organized fraud is likelier when voters must seek their own applications or get help doing so, because history shows that process is more open to manipulation than the application showing up directly in the mail.

The far greater danger than a few fraudulent votes is tens of thousands of voters being disenfranchised because they don’t get around to seeking an absentee application, then stay at home on Election Day to protect their health.

We welcome Fasano’s recognition that wide use of absentee voting can make for safer voting. And if he and his fellow Republicans have ideas for improving the mailing of applications, let’s hear them. But Merrill’s application mailing plan remains fundamentally a good idea and we support it, warts and all.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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