An absentee ballot envelope for West Hartford.
An absentee ballot envelope for West Hartford. Credit: File / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut residents planning to cast votes in party primary elections next month can begin voting this week via absentee ballot, which are more widely available as a result of a new law that eased eligibility restrictions.

Democrats and Republicans will head to the polls on Aug. 9 to choose their parties’ nominees in contested local, state and federal races. However, state law allows voters to begin casting absentee ballots three weeks before that date, which means the period for mailing in ballots began on Wednesday. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, election law tightly restricted use of absentee ballots to voters who qualified for a handful of excuses detailed in the state constitution. But recent changes make eligible anyone unable to get to the polls because they are out of town or fearful of contracting illnesses.

Berlin Town Clerk Kate Wall, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said the new rules make voting easier for residents who may not be able to make it to the polls for a number of reasons. 

“So many people, they want to do the right thing and this makes it just a little bit easier for them,” Wall said. “If they have really long [work] days and they want to vote and they’re concerned about whether or not they can get back into town on time. The same thing with disability or illness or taking care of a spouse… it’s now a little easier because, again, they want to do the right thing.”

Voters seeking to obtain an absentee ballot can contact their town clerks or access applications online, either on their town’s website or the secretary of the state’s site. Wall stressed that voters must sign their application with a “wet” signature, meaning putting pen to paper before mailing the form back to their clerks. 

Voters can apply for a ballot up until the day before the election and submit the ballot until 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

However, ballots must be either deposited in a ballot box or turned in to town officials by the time polls closed. Even ballots that are postmarked before Election Day will not be counted if they do not arrive before polls close. That means as Aug. 9 draws nearer, residents should consider dropping off their ballots in person rather than sending them by mail, which can take four or five days to arrive. 

Wall said it was difficult to predict voter participation via absentee ballot ahead of the primary elections. She said many residents were unaware of the coming party contests.

In Connecticut, voters must be registered as members of a political party in order to participate in that party’s primary. 

Both major parties have contested statewide races next month. Although Democrats and Republicans have settled on their candidates for this year’s gubernatorial election, both parties must decide on general election nominees to run for secretary of the state. 

Democrats will choose between the party’s convention-endorsed candidate Rep. Stephanie Thomas of Norwalk and New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond. Republicans will pick between convention-endorsed candidate Dominic Rapini and state Rep. Terrie Wood of Darien. 

Meanwhile, Republicans will go to the polls to nominate a challenger to run against two-term U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Party members chose former House Minority Leader Themis Klarides at their convention in May but next month she will face two challengers in Leora Levy and Peter Lumaj. 

Democrats also have a three-way primary election in this year’s race for state treasurer. Convention-endorsed candidate Erick Russell will compete for the nomination against Dita Bhargava and Karen DuBois-Walton.

Wall encouraged all voters to double check their party affiliations before Aug. 9 and participate in the coming election.

“I’m stressing going to the polls if people would like to, but if they can’t and there’s a reason for using the absentee ballot, that’s why it’s there,” Wall said.