HARTFORD, CT — The world of politics is built on relationships and much of it is done in person, but the social distancing measures required by the coronavirus are posing problems for party delegate selection and an April 28 presidential primary.
Both the Democratic and Republican Party are supposed to select their delegates to the state convention to nominate state representatives and senators by the end of the month. Those meetings are supposed to happen in person. It might take an executive order from the governor to make sure those can happen remotely by video conference or conference call.
Gov. Ned Lamont was not ready Tuesday to talk about postponing the primary and party leaders were not ready to talk about their plans for delegate selection.
Lamont said he was in discussions with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about moving the presidential primary to a later date.
Maryland, which also had an April 28 presidential primary, is postponing their primary until June 2.
Four days ago, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill opined that the state should allow those afraid to go to the polls to vote by absentee ballots.
“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.
The Connecticut Town Clerks Association objected to Merrill’s proposal.
“No excuse absentee ballot voting has never been done in Connecticut and town clerks are being asked to implement this for the first time in the midst of a national health pandemic, with decreased staff, with town halls operating under reduced hours, while operating under mutual aid with other municipalities and many other uncertainties that town clerks have no control over,” Anna Posniak, president Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said in a letter to Merrill and Lamont.
Posniak said there’s a concern that Merrill’s proposal would expose the public and municipal workers to a “potentially unhealthier and dangerous situation” for three weeks.
In order to obtain an absentee ballot application residents would have to show up in person at town halls, which are largely closed. Even if someone could print a ballot application from home, someone must be at town hall to process the application and then send the absentee ballot.
“Furthermore, our State Constitution prohibits no excuse absentee ballot voting by our electorate. Under section 7 of the State Constitution, only ‘voters of the state who are unable to appear at the polling place on the day of election because of absence from the city or town of which they are inhabitants or because of sickness or physical disability or because the tenets of their religion forbid secular activity’ are permitted to vote by absentee ballot,” Posniak wrote.
Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for Merrill, said the date of the primary is set in statute, but it could be changed by the legislature or an executive order from the governor.
“Our two primary concerns are to make sure that every Connecticut voter who wishes to cast a ballot can do so, and that every voter who casts a ballot is able to do so in the healthiest possible way,” Rosenberg said. “To that end, we are working with the governor, our partners in the Registrars and the Town Clerks, and federal officials, as well as the chief election officials in other states with an April 28th primary, to determine the best way for Connecticut voters to participate in the presidential primaries.”
The Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut said in a statement that the primary should be postponed.
“We believe the best course of action for Connecticut residents is to postpone our upcoming Presidential Primary, scheduled for April 28th, until a future date when it is determined by the Governor and public health authorities that the election can be administered safely,” ROVAC said. “There are a number of reasons for this — concern for elderly residents, unavailability of volunteer poll workers, the fact that many polling locations are schools and Town Halls and may still be closed on April 28th, difficulty in keeping voting equipment clean and disinfected, maintaining social distancing of six feet and additional CDC recommendations. “
They agreed that Merrill’s absentee ballot solution was not “feasible.”
Rosenberg pointed out that the primary is still six weeks away and that ballots cannot be ordered until March 24 and will not be available to voters until April 7.
“Ironically, our late primary gives us more time to plan contingencies than other states, and we are working through that process now,” he added.