Absentee voting is popular in pandemic

Town Clerk Wendy Lionetti advises voters to use the official ballot drop box by the Bailey Avenue entrance to town hall, rather than mail back absentee ballots and risk having them come in too late.

Town Clerk Wendy Lionetti advises voters to use the official ballot drop box by the Bailey Avenue entrance to town hall, rather than mail back absentee ballots and risk having them come in too late.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media

An unprecedented number of Ridgefielders have sought absentee ballots for next week’s primary amid concerns about COVID-19.

Four times as many absentee ballot applications had come in for this year’s primaries as there were absentee votes in the 2016 presidential election, according to Town Clerk Wendy Lionetti.

“So far, this year for the primary, 2,900 absentee applications — and we have 13 days left before the primary,” Lionetti told a July 28 League of Women Voters zoom forum on voting.

“In the presidential election in 2016, 699 absentee ballots were accepted.”

By Monday, Aug. 3, some 3,200 absentee ballot applications had been received, she later told The Press.

Lionetti is asking people not to mail absentee ballots back in, but to use the official ballot drop-box by the Bailey Avenue entrance to town hall — she’s worried ballots mailed back in won’t be received in time for the Aug. 11 vote-counting.

“Anyone that’s gotten their ballot, we suggest that they use the ballot drop box. Don’t mail the ballot. We’re just concerned about the mail. I think they’re struggling as it is,” she said.

“If it’s late,” she said of an absentee ballot, “the registrars can’t count it.”

The ballot drop box — which Lionetti checks several times a day and will check for a final time at 8 p.m. on primary day, Aug. 11 — solves the late-due-to-the-mail problem.

“Please. I’m asking everyone to tell their neighbors and their friends, too,” Lionetti said. “We’ll be sure we’ll get their ballot. It won’t count if we get it Aug 12, it doesn’t it matter when it’s posted. But up until 8 p.m on Aug. 11, it counts.”

COVID excuse

While Republicans and Democrats from all four Ridgefield voting districts may still do in-person voting at East Ridge Middle School on primary day, Tuesday, Aug.11, the explosion of absentee voting comes as the state has added concerns about COVID-19 to the list of reasons people may give for voting absentee rather than in person.

Connecticut has always been a state where absentee voting is permitted only to those with certain specific reasons that they can’t go to the polls on election day.

“They’ve always allowed absentee balloting. What changed is the addition of the excuse of COVID 19,” said Democratic Registrar of Voters Cindy Bruno.

The other reasons categorized as legitimate cause to apply for an absentee ballot in Connecticut are:

• The voters is serving in the military;

• The voters will be out of town on election day;

• Illness, the voters is sick and can’t leave their home;

• The voter’s religious tenets forbid secular activity on the day of the election;

• The voters has duties as a primary or election official on election day.

• The voter has a physical disability that prevents getting to the polls.

Now there’s one more.

“For the primary this year COVID-19 was given as a legitimate excuse to put on the absentee ballot application. COVID-19 is one of the reasons anyone can use to vote absentee,” Lionetti said.

The other thing driving the increase in absentee ballot use is that the Secretary of the State’s office sent absentee ballot applications to every eligible primary voter — meaning Republicans or Democrats, since those are the parties having primaries.

“Although the earliest date absentee ballots became available for the Aug. 11 primary was July 21, the Town Clerk’s office has been made aware that the bulk of the absentee ballots were sent via USPS by the mailing house on Monday, July 27,” Lionetti said. “Please allow several days for your ballot to arrive and once it does, mail it immediately or put it in our new secure ballot box located at the Bailey Avenue entrance to Town Hall.”

Town hall office

The town clerk also said she’ll be accepting absentee ballot applications and giving eligible voters the appropriate ballot — Democratic or republican — from an office on the lower level of town hall, just inside the Bailey Avenue door where the absentee ballot drop-box is.

“Anyone that wants to can come into the lower level, and come into the small conference room, and I will be down there to help them,” Lionetti said

“If someone is concerned about mailing in the application for a ballot, they can bring their application to town hall,” she said. “You go in the lower level. Go straight through into the lower level conference room. I’ll be in there, and I will have the ballot packets. You give me your application, I’ll hand you your ballot.

“It’ll take two seconds for you to vote. You can do it while you’re sitting here,” she said. “You color in the bubble, put it in the envelope, sign and date it, put it in the other envelope.

“When I receive it back, we date and time-stamp it — every single one.”

Lionetti was describing what election officials describe as a three-step “A, B, C” process to vote with an absentee ballot.

• A. Fill out the absentee ballots by coloring in the circles for the candidates the voter wants to vote for.

• B. Put the completed ballot in the inner “B” envelope and sign and be sure to date the outside of the envelope. If the envelope isn’t signed and dated, the ballot will be rejected as invalid.

• C. Put the signed, sealed and dated inner B envelope inside the outer envelope and either mail that in — which it’s likely too late to do now — or put it in the ballot drop box by the side Bailey Avenue entrance to town hall.

“We want people use the ballot drop box,” Lionetti said. “The good news is, it’s not 8:30 to 4:30 — it’s 24 hours.

“If you get home after 8 o’clock —no big deal. It’s so convenient.”