Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie
Secretary of the State Denis Merrill speaks to reporters on Primary Day in Hartford (Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut voters were adjusting Tuesday to the new ways of voting because for the first time hundreds of thousands of voters decided—and were allowed to—vote by absentee ballot.

“There are reports that the ballots boxes have been of tremendous use,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said.

She said turnout seemed light at the polling places for the early morning hours and heavy at the ballot boxes placed outside town halls across the state where people are dropping off their absentee ballots.

“We all know that the national candidates are essentially chosen,” Merrill said.

On the Republican Party ballot, President Donald Trump appears on the top line and Rocky De La Fuente is on the second followed by “uncommitted.” On Democratic Party ballots, Joe Biden is followed by Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and “uncommitted.”

“What you’re choosing as a voter, when you’re voting as either a Democrat or Republican, in the presidential primary is your preference for delegates to the national convention,” Merrill said.

Merrill defended her decision to ask Gov. Ned Lamont to extend the deadline for absentee ballots to be turned in to Aug. 13.

She said no voter should be disenfranchised, and some were affected by Tropical Storm Isaias and its aftermath.

Republicans claim Merrill botched the absentee ballot process by using a mail house to send out the bulk of the absentee ballots and then leaving the rest up to town clerks.

“This is not the fault of a storm, it’s not the fault of the postal service, and it’s not the fault of town clerks,” Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano said. “Secretary Merrill’s third-party mail house missed multiple deadlines and delayed sending ballots. Instead of recognizing the issues early on, she dismissed and ignored warnings several times and spent more time pointing her finger at others than on fixing the problems.”

Merrill said she could not predict how voters will react to the disruptions to what is usually a fairly low-turnout affair in August.

“I can’t predict it with all these interruptions,” Merrill said. “It’s hard to say what people are going to do.”

West Hartford residents came out to vote in person for a variety of reasons.

Natalie Stevens, 50, said she received the application but that it was a bit confusing.

“I didn’t really understand it, so I came out to vote in person,” Stevens said outside the Charter Oak International Academy cafeteria, which was outfitted for socially distanced voting. “I like the ballot better. Easy to understand.”

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The cafeteria at Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford was set up for polling in Tuesday’s primary (ctnewsjunkie photo)

Carolyn Darr, 66, said she did receive her absentee ballot application in the mail but didn’t use it.

“I don’t know. I just wanted to come in person,” Darr said. “It just feels better going out to vote.”

Patricia O’Malley said she had received the application but lost it.

“I was going to use it,” O’Malley said. “I think I am going to go with an absentee ballot in November. I live three streets over so it’s convenient. My impression [today] was that there wouldn’t be many people.”

She was correct. The pace of voting during the early afternoon hours at Charter Oak was slow.

Voting at other polling places was sparse, and the state allowed towns to reduce the number of workers to facilitate social distancing in keeping with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guidelines include having hand sanitizer available at each step of the voting process, keeping voters six feet apart, and use of masks by voters and workers, among other recommendations.

More than 100 voters had voted at Parker Memorial Center in Hartford by 1 p.m.

In New Britain, officials said that at noon, 800 had cast ballots in person across 17 polling places. However, they had at least 600 absentee ballots submitted in the Democratic contest for the 24th House District.

Merrill said they have had 10 times the amount of absentee ballots they’ve ever had for any election.

Back in West Hartford, Nancy Carter said that she saw a lot of negativity about absentee ballots online, and the possibility that her ballot could be lost before it was counted made her nervous.

She voted in person to make sure it went through the machine and was counted.

However, she said her plan for November may be different.

“There could be a blizzard,” she said.

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Outside the poll at Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford (ctnewsjunkie photo)