christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

BLOOMFIELD, CT — Secretary of the State Denise Merrill defended the state’s decision to use federal funds to purchase absentee ballot boxes for every town hall in the state and the decision to mail out absentee voter applications to every registered voter.

“It’s very damaging. That’s what’s upsetting to me. These people are questioning our democracy in a situation where we have checks and balances like almost no other state,” Merrill said Monday outside Bloomfield Town Hall.

Republicans held a conference call last week to announce the creation of a hotline for voters to call if they received an absentee ballot application for a person who no longer lives at that residence.

“We do have a lot of examples that have some back recently of people who have never lived at an address or have moved out six years ago,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.

Republicans don’t believe the voter rolls in Connecticut are as clean as Merrill believed when she sent out absentee voter applications to voters registered with one of the two major parties for the Aug. 11 primary.

Merrill said any voter who received an application in error can write “return to sender” on the envelope and put it back in the mail. The applications will be returned to her office and she will send them out to the local registrars so that they can remove the addressee from the active voter list.

christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie

Fasano said the Secretary of the State “has an obligation to be on the front line” if these lists are not being purged by the local registrar of voters.

Merrill said the voter lists are all maintained at the local level and they do the best they can to maintain those lists.

“Any list is a point in time,” Merrill said.

She said the absentee ballot applications are an opportunity to further clean up the lists.

“Connecticut doesn’t do a lot of absentee ballots. In a normal election we’ll have maybe 8 percent or something voting by absentee. And there will be a lot more because we are in a crisis and people are scared,” Merrill said.

Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause of Connecticut, said they would like to see the General Assembly allow for no-excuse absentee ballots in November and beyond.

“This is an issue of lawmakers and the administration being concerned that folks are able to vote safely,” Quickmire said.

Quickmire and a group of good-government advocates sent legislative leaders a letter Monday asking them to extend the no-excuse absentee ballots.

“Even if a vaccine is developed to address COVID-19—which is highly unlikely before the November elections there will still be a significant need to continue social distancing for an extended period of time, and the efficacy of any vaccine will depend on factors largely out of CT residents’ control. Simply put, we can’t let the fate of voting rights get lost in a future we can’t predict,” the group wrote.

They said it’s “equally important to have a safeguarded and accessible location to drop off absentee ballots, which is why leaders must work with towns to provide secure access to dropboxes.”

“If someone were to throw some chemical in there or something to destroy the ballots. I don’t know how you deal with that issue,” Fasano said.

The ballot boxes which were purchased with $5 million in federal funds are secure, according to local officials in Bloomfield.

Bloomfield Town Clerk Marguerite Phillips said the box will be checked once a day and the ballots will be moved into the vault in Town Hall.