Casting absentee ballots in New Haven just become easier for voters who work full-time.
For the upcoming general election, the City Clerk’s Office scheduled extended hours for two Saturdays — Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — for voters to turn in their absentee ballots. In previous elections, the office was open only from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on the Saturday before Election Day.
“It is a new initiative of the clerk’s office to give voters more opportunities,” City Clerk Michael Smart told the News.
Absentee ballots are sent no more than 31 days before the election, and voters can cast their ballots either by coming to the municipal clerk’s office or via mail, according to the Connecticut secretary of state’s website. Connecticut is one of 13 states that does not offer absentee or early voting for people who are capable of voting on Election Day. In Connecticut, voters can only request absentee ballots under certain conditions, such as having a disability or needing to observe a religious holiday.
Smart explained that, even though voters can mail in their absentee ballots, many of them choose to deliver their ballots in person, especially when voters forget to send them on time.
“I don’t like to deal with the mail. [If I turn the ballot in physically] it won’t get lost,” said one voter who requested anonymity after casting her absentee ballot at the office.
Smart said that his office disseminated news of the extended hours through on flyers and in local newspapers. Although Smart could not provide the exact number of absentee ballots received on Oct. 28, he said the change has gone “really well” and that he believes the extension will increase voter turnout.
But due to Connecticut’s strict absentee voting laws, the number of absentee ballots is limited. Statistics from the Connecticut secretary of state’s website show that, in last year’s presidential election, only 5.7 percent of votes cast in the Elm City were absentee ballots. In contrast, a study by Pew Research Center estimated that 35.8 percent of votes nationwide were cast via absentee ballot in 2012.
In recent years, the country has seen a trend toward early and absentee voting. Last year, 28 states allowed no-excuse absentee voting, up from 11 in 1992.
A constitutional amendment on the Connecticut ballot in 2014 would have allowed the legislature to expand access to early and absentee voting, since such a move is currently forbidden by the state constitution. The ballot measure, supported by Mayor Toni Harp and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, was narrowly rejected, with 52 percent of voters saying no.
Smart said it was unfortunate that the proposal, which would increase voter interest, did not succeed and that he hoped it would come up again in the future.
“A lot of people didn’t understand it,” Smart said. “With the right presentation and advertising it would go well.”
Opponents of the bill argued that the ballot measure was vaguely worded and would give too much power to the legislature.
At the same time, absentee voting has been a lightning rod for controversy. A study conducted by the United States Election Assistance Commission in 2006 concluded that absentee voting is the most common method used in voter fraud.
And the accusations have struck close to home: When he was running for City Clerk in 2013, Smart was accused by his opponent, former City Clerk Ron Smith, of illegally collecting absentee ballots. Smith, who won the election, declined to discuss the matter.
The City Clerk’s Office is located on Room 202 at 200 Orange St.
Malcolm Tang | firstname.lastname@example.org