Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

Amid a historically high demand for absentee methods of voting, the New Haven Board of Alders voted on Monday to accept a $93,000 grant from the Office of the Connecticut Secretary of State meant to help the city prepare for an unprecedented election. 

As of Monday, the city clerk’s office has received more than 11,000 requests for absentee ballots. By election day, they expect to receive more than double the 14,000 requests processed in 2016, New Haven City Clerk Michael Smart told The Independent on Monday. According to Smart, the grant money will service to hire 15 new temporary staff to help count and process the influx of ballots. 

“There’s been tremendous support from the state level to the cities,” Bartlett-Josie said. “The primary was the test, but I think we have worked out the kinks.”

Christine Bartlett-Josie, from the election support office with the Connecticut Secretary of State, said that after observing overwhelmed staff and processing delays during the primaries, the office opened applications for Connecticut towns and cities to request additional funds to help create a larger election workforce in the weeks leading up to Nov. 3. 

New Haven’s grant comes a week after the Connecticut House of Representatives voted in favor of allowing election officials to begin processing absentee ballots four days before the election itself. In previous years, the secretary of state would not begin counting ballots until the day of the election. The bill would give the town clerks and registrars of voters the ability to open the outer envelope of absentee ballots and reject any ballots that do not have the required date and signature. 

This summer, the state legislature also passed a bill that  eliminated the need for an excuse in order to vote absentee in light of COVID-19. Because of the new grant and continued legislation, Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22, said absentee ballots need to be a priority and was confident that all of the ballots would be counted. 

“I think we’re adapting and trying to make sure that we have all the systems ready and well-designed,” Sabin said. “This grant is going to help get ballots out, get them back and counted and make sure everyone in New Haven is able to exercise their right to vote.”

Bartlett-Josie told the News that while she is confident the cities in Connecticut have taken the right steps to ensure a smoother election process, it is important for local governments to remain aware of potential bumps in the road up ahead, especially as the pandemic adds a layer of uncertainty to daily life. But she stressed that the state is continuing to collaborate with large cities like New Haven to ensure voter safety as the wave of absentee ballots continues. 

“COVID-19 is happening,” Bartlett-Josie said. “It’s absolutely necessary to ensure that folks can vote safely. It is crucially important in this time of a pandemic.”

Aaron Goode, co-founder of the group New Haven Votes, said he was glad that the city will receive more money to increase the number of election day staff. He told the News he would like to see more hires at the city’s Registrar of Voters’ office, the office that is in charge of voter registration.  He also encouraged the city to look into private sources of funding, such as those that have been set up by Mark Zuckerberg and Lebron James to assist municipalities in the election day process. 

“I hope [the funds] are sufficient,” Goode said. “There are many steps we can take to make sure everyone’s vote is counted and that we can have confidence in our election this November.”

While the election looms and absentee ballots begin to accumulate, Goode encouraged New Haven citizens to look beyond the national election when preparing to vote. Even though Connecticut has not historically been a swing state, Goode said, there are incredibly important items on the ballot, including several elected positions and a referendum on the Green New Deal. Above all, Goode said he hopes that on Nov. 3, the people of New Haven will be able to come away from the experience with newfound confidence in their elections.

“People need to have confidence in the system,” Goode said. “Because there will be very important things on the ballot now and in the future. We need to hear people’s voices.”

As of October 2019, there were 85,441 registered voters in the city of New Haven, according to the Connecticut Secretary of State.

Thomas Birmingham | thomas.birmingham@yale.edu