HARTFORD, CT —Gov. Ned Lamont has signed 23 executive orders since March 12, but none of them so far have offered any guidance for voters looking to vote in the presidential primary on June 2.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill wrote Lamont 11 days ago to lay out the options her office is considering, including the ability to receive an absentee ballot voters can return by mail for the presidential primary.
In a normal election roughly 6-8% of voters statewide can be expected to cast their ballots via mail, Merrill said. However, this crisis presents unique challenges because voting in-person at a polling place carries some risk.
“No voter should have to choose between jeopardizing their health and exercising their right to vote,” Merrill wrote.
Lamont would need to sign an executive order to override Connecticut’s strict absentee ballot laws.
On Tuesday, Lamont said his office is actively discussing Merrill’s plan to send absentee ballots to every voter with legislative leadership.
“I’m not inclined to cancel any type of a vote and I do have a stay at home rule,” Lamont said. “So I’m gonna have to find a way that people can vote, especially seniors, so they don’t have to leave their houses and go vote. Obviously the voting by mail makes a lot of sense to me.”
Lamont said he just needs his lawyers to figure out a way to draft an executive order.
It’s unclear whether they will land on some sort of no-excuse absentee ballot process or allow every registered voter to receive a ballot by mail.
“Loosening the restrictions on mail-in voting will alleviate the problem at the polling places by shifting votes from in-person at the polling place to mailed ballots,” Merrill said. “The workload will be manageable as roughly forty two percent of the state’s voter are registered as unaffiliated voters or in third parties and are therefore ineligible to participate in the June 2nd presidential primary. Another roughly twenty percent are only eligible to vote in a Republican primary that has seen fairly low interest, and where low turnout is expected, regardless of voting method.”
Merrill said that polls must remain open June 2, but it’s been challenging to find poll workers and a recent executive order limiting public gatherings to five people will make things difficult.
Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said it’s a “backdoor attempt at mail-in voting,” and a “liberal agenda.”
“From a legislative perspective this is not something Democrats or Republicans want,” Romano said. “This is something Denise Merrill wants.”
He said it’s a ridiculous fight to be having over a presidential primary that’s already been decided. He said Sen. Bernie Sanders has no path to victory and he’s been trying to get Rocky De La Fuente to remove his name from the ballot so that there’s no need for a Republican presidential primary.
Last week Merrill told the New Haven Independent that she respects that fact Lamont has been hesitant to automatically grant requests to use emergency powers to override the legislature during this pandemic.
“Everyone wants him to do everything to override laws,” which is a “dangerous tendency” of some in executive leadership positions, Merrill observed. “I’m glad he says these laws are here for a reason.”
At the same time, local election officials and Merrill’s office need time to plan for the upcoming presidential primary and while ballots won’t have to be ordered until mid-May it’s getting close to a time when there will need to be some clarity.
“Town Clerks will make their ballot order on or around April 28th, and mail-in ballots are statutorily required to be available to voters on May 12th,” Merrill wrote. “It is possible that the longer we wait, the harder it will be to reserve printing services.”