CHRISTINE STUART / CTNEWSJUNKIE

HARTFORD, CT – As towns began mailing out absentee ballots in record numbers Friday, Connecticut officials sought to ease voter anxiety over the integrity of the 2020 election.

“There’s no room for anybody casting shade about the integrity of our [voting] process here in Connecticut,” Gov. Ned Lamont said before signing a measure aimed at helping local officials process the influx of absentee ballots that was passed in special session the night before.

Towns had already processed applications for more than 426,000 absentee ballots as of Wednesday, according to the Secretary of the State’s Office. And while it is unknown how many of those voters will ultimately choose to vote absentee, they are on track to far outpace the 2016 presidential election when only 129,480 voters returned absentee ballots.

“This is an unprecedented election during an unprecedented year,” Anna Posniak, Windsor town clerk and president Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said at the bill signing.

CHRISTINE STUART / CTNEWSJUNKIE

Local officials appreciate the new law, which permits them to open the outer envelope of an absentee ballot four days before Election Day, Posniak said. The measure will allow town clerks and registrars of voters a head start in processing the ballots and will enable them to reject ballots that are not signed and dated appropriately.

Friday’s bill signing doubled as a sort of public service announcement aimed at reassuring voters of the security of the mail-in voting process.

Voter anxiety over the record use of mail-in ballots has been high this year, in part due to President Donald Trump’s repeated unproven allegations that they facilitate voter fraud. The president continued to cast doubt on the mail-in voting system this week during Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said voters should reject that allegation. If anything, Connecticut was behind the curve when it came to mail-in voting, which he said 1 in 4 Americans used to cast votes in the last couple of federal elections.

“Anybody who is making the argument that absentee balloting increases voter fraud is spreading a fiction and it is not an innocent fiction. It is a fiction designed to sow distrust and call into question the legitimacy of our election and it’s not acceptable,” Bronin said.

Posniak walked reporters through the process by which election administrators handle absentee ballots. Returned ballots are date-stamped and signed by the town clerk, who then enters each into the state voter registry system, she said. The system updates the town voter list to indicate that the voter has entered an absentee ballot, she said. The envelopes holding the ballots are then filed by district, address, and voter name and secured in a vault with no public access, she said. They stay in the vault until Election Day when they are turned over to the registrars of voters, who will open the inner envelope and begin the process of counting votes.

CHRISTINE STUART / CTNEWSJUNKIE

“We do this very securely, we do this while maintaining the person’s privacy while voting,” she said.

Posniak said members of the public are welcome to watch town officials open the absentee ballots but noted that space would be limited this year as a result of the social distancing rules caused by the pandemic. Residents interested in observing the process should contact their registrars in advance to check on availability, she said.

Given the pandemic, voters should also have a back-up plan for voting this year, Posniak said. She encouraged everyone to apply for an absentee ballot, which will not be counted unless it is turned in before Election Day.

“That way if you find yourself, prior to the election, quarantined or sick you have an option to vote safely and securely. Please vote this year,” she said.