Last week the House voted overwhelmingly to allow anyone who doesn’t feel safe going to the polls because of the pandemic to request an absentee ballot for the November election. The Senate will likely follow suit this week.
Unless conditions dramatically improve between now and the fall, that means we’re going to see an election in which we cast more votes by absentee ballot than ever before. The potential for voter fraud, despite what some Republicans are saying, remains very low. Unfortunately, the potential for Connecticut to absolutely screw this up in all kinds of other ways remains, as always, high.
In just a couple of weeks we’ll get a sense of how well-prepared election officials are for a flood of absentee ballots as primary elections finally take place. This election isn’t just the usual even-year primary, but also the rescheduled presidential preference primary that was wiped out by the coronavirus. Everyone registered with a party was mailed an absentee ballot application, and those who filled it out and checked off “COVID-19” as their reason should be receiving a ballot shortly. Voters can then return the ballot by mail or drop it off in ballot drop boxes in front of their town halls.
Then, once Primary Day finally arrives, voting officials in each town will open up the envelopes and start the arduous, time-consuming counting process. We’ll get the results … well, eventually.
The trouble is that Connecticut’s cities and towns aren’t well-known for producing timely results during years when we don’t have a planetary health crisis. I’ve stayed up past midnight waiting for Bridgeport to come in often enough to be worried that we may not know who won our elections until 24 hours after the polls closed – or longer.
The primary election should be a good dry run for the general election in November, though, right? Should the August election be a chance to figure out where the problems are and try to fix them?
Unfortunately, 2020 is a very bad primary season for troubleshooting a general election.
For one thing, interest in the primary is very, very, very low this year, despite the fact that the presidential primary is happening at the same time as the usual state primaries. The presidential nomination is all wrapped up for both parties, and has been for months. We’ll likely know Joe Biden’s choice for his running mate before Connecticut Democrats get a chance to vote for or against him in the primary.
Plus, there are no high-profile primaries this year at all. There is no U.S. Senate election in Connecticut this year, so there is no hotly contested race among Republicans to see who loses to Chris Murphy or Richard Bluementhal by 20%. All of the congressional seats are safely Democratic, and all feature incumbents running for re-election.
Downballot primaries are also scarce. Only 11 towns are having Democratic primaries of any sort this year, and while Republicans are having primaries in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts, their likely futile races haven’t attracted any attention.
In short, turnout will not be breaking any records.
All of this means that town and city election officials will in no way be ready for the flood of absentee ballots headed their way in November, because this coming general election is going to be different from the primary in every way possible.
People are unbelievably motivated to vote this November. Voters are salivating for a chance to either protect or kick out the president, and that high enthusiasm is going to be at a fever pitch come the fall. Town halls are going to be crammed to the gills with absentee ballots.
The other problem that election officials, candidates, and everybody interested in democracy will have to face is the threat of allegations of voter fraud. This probably won’t come up during what should be a sleepy primary, but the state Republican Party, goaded by President Trump, has already signaled it’s going to be up in arms in November. They’ve set up a “Voter Fraud Task Force” and have been busy ginning up pre-emptive outrage down in the usual right-wing fever swamps, so if there are any close races at all expect the state GOP to come running with lawyers in tow.
A long, drawn-out reporting process will just make that situation worse. The public’s faith in democracy, which is already fragile, could be pushed to the breaking point.
So, for the upcoming general election I am hoping Connecticut gets it right, but I’m also bracing for the worst.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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