On June 3 we published a letter from State Reps Themis Klarides and Vincent Candelora to the Secretary of the State with questions regarding mail-in ballots.
Here is SOTS Denise Merrill’s detailed response:
Dear Representatives Klarides and Candelora,
Thank you for your letter. I share your view that the right to vote is a fundamental right and the foundational basis of our democracy. Like you, I am also concerned about the administration of an election that will necessarily take place under challenging, virtually unprecedented circumstances. As you know, the COVID–19 virus presents unique challenges to election administration. It is a highly communicable virus that passes via direct person–to–person contact, and disproportionally affects people over 65 and people with fairly common pre-existing health conditions (more here). This directly affects voters, poll workers, and local election officials alike, as it does the layout and operation of Election Day polling places and the availability of local election offices leading up to Election Day (we have shared the CDC polling place guidelines with local election officials and have used it to guide our planning. You can find it here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019–ncov/community/election polling–locations.html).
My staff and I worked hard to address these circumstances when we developed the plan for Connecticut‘s 2020 elections, and have worked with the leadership and the membership of ROVAC and the Town Clerks‘ Association to determine what they need to hold safe and successful elections in August and in November. As I have said from the beginning of the crisis, the most important job of election administration in the face of the COVID–19 crisis is to protect the health and safety of voters and poll workers, and to ensure that no voter has to choose between their health and their right to vote.
The plan is available on my office‘s website, or directly at myvote.ct.gov/2020plan. The answers to the questions that you posed are below:
Can you provide details regarding the cost implications of your plan to the state budget? Do you anticipate costs to the state that exceed those covered by the federal government?
There is no cost implication of the 2020 election plan to the state budget. The plan is 100% paid for by the three tranches of federal funding we have received for both cybersecurity and COVID 19 relief (as I indicated in a letter to the legislative leadership of March 28, 2020, the CARES Act funding that was specifically granted to expand vote by mail options and to protect the health and safety of Election Day poll workers and voters has a 20% state match, roughly $1.08 million. The match must be met within two years, but there is still some uncertainty as to what will qualify for the match, and I and my fellow Secretaries of State from both parties have reached out to our respective congressional delegations to request that the match be lowered or even eliminated in the next round of COVID–19 relief bills).
How will you choose the vendor to assist with the administration of the new ballot boxes? How will you determine which mail house to contract with to mail out the absentee ballots?
The vendor we chose, American Security Cabinets (more about them here: https://americansecuritycabinets.com/), is an existing provider of secure dropboxes for elections with several California counties and other states that have more widespread use of voting by mail and already use secure dropboxes (NCSL has a list of the states that use secure ballot drop boxes here. Our main concern when we chose a vendor was to find someone with a track record in providing states with these secure drop boxes. As you know, existing Connecticut state contracting procedures allow Connecticut state agencies to do business with companies through the existing state contracts of other states.
The mail house vendor is not yet finalized, but we are looking at vendors that have a track record of providing this service for states that are at least as big as Connecticut, and are already a Connecticut state contractor and/or are approved for state contracting in Connecticut via reciprocity from another state‘s contract.
Can you please describe the security procedures for the new ballot boxes? How can we ensure a proper chain of custody for the ballots deposited in these new boxes?
The secure dropboxes are specifically designed for elections (more here and to meet California‘s stringent ballot box design and security standards (those standards can be found here. They are designed to be permanently installed, just like a USPS mailbox, or a UPS/FedEx dropbox.
The absentee ballots that are delivered via the secure dropbox will be considered a return by mail. Only the Town Clerk will have the keys to open the dropbox. The federal Department of Homeland Security/Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency promulgated Ballot Dropbox Guidance (can be found here that we will provide to the towns as well.
What is the reasoning for utilizing ballot boxes when the United States Postal Service is available?
Many voters who have voted by absentee ballot in the past have done so by physically dropping their ballots off in the Town Clerks‘ office in their town. Unfortunately, Town Clerks‘ offices are currently largely closed, we do not yet know when they will reopen, and even when they do, some voters may feel trepidation at entering their town hall to deliver their ballots. The secure dropboxes will allow a contactless delivery of absentee ballots at town hall for those voters who would feel more comfortable delivering their absentee ballots by that method.
Will absentee ballot applications be sent out to inactive voters?
No. Only Active voters are eligible to vote by absentee ballot, so absentee ballot applications will only be sent to Active voters. In order for an Inactive voter to vote by absentee ballot, they must first fill out a form to rejoin the Active voter roll.
Do you intend to send absentee ballot applications to a targeted set of voters if so, what will the criteria be (i.e. age)?
No, absentee ballots will be sent to all eligible, Active registered voters.
Will municipalities be required to designate a machine for only absentee ballots?
No, they will use current law to process absentee ballots. The tabulators will continue to provide separate totals for polling place ballots and absentee ballots, as they do in every election.
When will absentee ballots be tallied – on Election Day or as the ballots come in or nightly?
The absentee ballots will be tabulated on Election Day.
What is the screening process should a voter arrive in person at the polls on Election Day who has already voted by absentee ballot?
The screening process is the same as it has been for prior elections as current law already addresses this situation (see Connecticut General Statutes Title 9, Section 140c. The Election Day checklist will be premarked with those voters whose absentee ballot is received prior to Election Day and those voters will not be allowed to vote in person. Any absentee ballot that arrives on Election Day is held until after 8:00 pm when the absentee ballot is compared to the official Election Day checklist; if the voter has appeared in person in a polling place, the absentee ballot is rejected.
Will absentee ballots received after 8 PM on Election Day be counted?
No, under Connecticut General Statutes Title 9, Section 140b, all absentee ballots must be received by 8:00 pm on Election Day in order to be counted.
Please let me know if you have any other questions that come up. I am heartened by our ability to work together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that no Connecticut voter is prevented from voting due to the COVID–19 pandemic and that no one is forced to choose between protecting their health and casting their ballot.
Denise Merrill Connecticut Secretary of the State