HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order Wednesday that allows anyone concerned about going to the polls on Aug. 11 the opportunity to apply for an absentee ballot.
Before the executive order, individuals over the age of 60 or in a risk category for contracting COVID-19 would have had to go to the polls to legally cast a vote in the Aug. 11 primary. The executive order allows fear of contracting COVID-19 as a legal excuse for obtaining an absentee ballot.
“A person shall be permitted to lawfully state he or she is unable to appear at a polling place because of COVID-19 if, at the time he or she applies for or casts an absentee ballot for the August 11, 2020 primary election, there is no federally approved and widely available vaccine for prevention of COVID-19,” the executive order states.
Lamont said he’s telling people over the age of 65 and those with pre-existing health conditions to “stay home.” But he said staying home doesn’t mean they should give up their right to vote.
“I’ll be working with the legislature going forward what we can do in November,” he added.
Kelly McConney Moore, ACLU of Connecticut policy counsel, approved of Lamont’s order Wednesday, but encouraged him to continue working with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to make sure “small mistakes” on absentee ballots can be fixed without invalidating the whole ballot.
The order requires the inner envelope for absentee ballot applications to include a notice describing additional absentee voting criteria and grants Merrill the authority to modify notices, statements, or descriptions on printed, recorded, or electronic material. Under the order, municipal clerks may use an approved third-party mailing vendor to fulfill duties to mail absentee voting materials for the primary.
Merrill has already announced that she intends to mail every registered voter in the state an application they will need to fill out and return in order to obtain an absentee ballot. That application, which will be sent via U.S. Postal Service, will include a postage-paid return envelope.
After processing the applications at the local level, all voters who request an absentee ballot will receive one through the mail, which also will include a postage-paid return envelope. In addition, each town will have a secure dropbox in a prominent location to allow voters to deliver their absentee ballots in person without close personal contact.
“Mail-in voting during the primary is now a reality,” Tom Swan, executive director of Connecticut Citizen Action Group said. “Now it’s incumbent upon the legislature to pass a bill ensuring vote-by-mail is an option during November’s elections.”
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he understands the need for absentee balloting during this time period.
“However, the process laid out in the governor’s executive order is not simply addressing those vulnerable groups,” Fasano said. “The proposed process raises significant questions of constitutionality and questions related to the security of unattended drop boxes that would be used to collect ballots.”
Lamont’s executive order changes statute, but the underlying absentee ballot provision is also in Connecticut’s constitution.
“If even one piece of the state’s constitution is not upheld, it sets a dangerous precedent that any part of the constitution could be ignored or overruled by one person. Constitutional protections cannot be eviscerated by the stroke of a pen. No matter how much we may want to waive the language of the constitution given the COVID-19 health crisis, we are bound to the documents that created our country and state and cannot legally do that,” Fasano said. “At times it can be easy to rationalize ignoring the constitution. But no matter how well reasoned the intentions are, the act of circumventing the constitution is not a luxury any governor should resort to and begs for legal challenges.”