Hugh McQuaid / ctnewsjunkie photo

HARTFORD, CT—With voters requesting absentee ballots in historic numbers, the House voted Wednesday to enable city and town officials to begin processing those ballots four days before Election Day.

The legislation, which passed 139-5, gives registrars of voters and town clerks the option to open the outer envelope of absentee ballots at 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30. Currently, they are not permitted to open the envelope until 6 a.m. on Election Day. If passed by the state Senate and approved by the governor, the new rules would be optional and at the discretion of town clerks working in concert with registrars of voters.

Rep. Dan Fox,  D-Stamford, who co-chairs the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said those officials need the greater flexibility given the record number of voters choosing to cast absentee ballots this year.

“As of this past week there have been in excess of 355,000 absentee ballot applications returned. Those numbers have been growing on a daily basis. This has, and will continue to require, remarkable efforts from town clerks, registrars and their staffs,” Fox said.

Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, stressed that towns will not be required to remove the outer envelopes from the ballots early.

“This is not a mandate. This is not prescribed by the legislature on the towns. It is their choice,” France said.

Hugh McQuaid / ctnewsjunkie photo

The bill will not give local officials the ability to begin tallying absentee votes early. The votes are contained in an inner envelope, which cannot be opened until Election Day.

However, by opening the outer envelopes, the legislation allows clerks and registrars to ascertain the total number of absentee ballots and also to reject those that do not have the appropriate signature and date that are required for a valid ballot.

“One thing that we did not want to change is the process of counting,” France said. “It’s important to remind people that we did not do anything to change that process, once again ensuring the integrity of the vote, which some people have been concerned about.”

The legislation also seeks to establish additional election oversight of the city of Bridgeport by requiring the secretary of the state to contract an election monitor to be present for the election in any city with more than 140,000 residents. Bridgeport is the only city that meets that criteria. The monitor will “detect and prevent irregularity and impropriety in the conduct” of the election, the bill states. The election monitor’s pay will come from federal funding under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.