christine stuart / ctnewsjunkiw
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill testifies last month (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkiw)

HARTFORD, CT – Secretary of the State Denise Merrill asked Gov. Ned Lamont Friday to temporarily remove restrictions on absentee ballots for the April 28 presidential primary.

Merrill said removing the restrictions on absentee ballots would allow anyone who wants to avoid polling places on April 28 due to COVID-19 to vote from home.

“The nature of COVID-19, or the coronavirus, is such that public health experts advise minimizing crowds and direct contact with other people,” Merrill said. “In order to ensure that Connecticut voters are able to cast a ballot on April 28th, absentee ballots must be available for voters who want to follow public health advice and avoid polling places.”

Connecticut doesn’t have no-excuse absentee voting so Merrill’s request could be considered controversial.

Currently, voters can obtain absentee ballots if they have an “illness.”

Merrill asked Lamont to issue an executive order that would eliminate restrictive language in the statute during this emergency.

It was unclear Friday night if such an order was forthcoming.

Merrill opined that, under a revised statute, the current public health emergency of COVID-19 would qualify under 9-135 (a) (3)  as an “illness” justification to request an absentee ballot. This opinion is narrow, and would only apply to the April 28 primary, she said.

“Our polling places will remain open, and our hard-working local election officials and poll workers are preparing to deliver as smooth and as healthy an Election Day as is possible under the circumstances,” Merrill said. “Every town has the benefit of guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including cleaning and disinfecting polling stations, practicing frequent hand hygiene, and encouraging curbside voting for voters who need it. Those guidelines also include encouraging absentee balloting and my office has provided local election officials with the opinion necessary to carry out those guidelines.”

In the meantime, Republican Party Chairman JR Romano called on Bill Weld and Rocky De La Fuente to withdraw their names from the ballot.

“Both candidates are mathematically out of the running for the nomination and forcing Connecticut residents to the polls is an unnecessary risk,” Romano said. “By eliminating the need for a primary it would also save money for local municipalities who are dealing with added cost to sterilize public spaces.”

On the Democratic side, Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Wyman is worried about delegate selection for the national and local conventions and the setting of dates for the Connecticut Democratic state convention, which was expected to happen later this month.

Lamont has prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people, and Democratic state party rules require in-person voting by town committees and do not allow for voting by phone, email, text, or videoconference. 

“We understand these are stressful times,” Wyman said. “We will keep local party officials updated with plans.”

There were no immediate answers for how the situation would be handled.

Absentee ballots will not be available until April 7.

Merrill instructed cities and towns to order additional absentee ballots this year due to what she anticipated would be increased demand.