Gregory Huber, chair of the Political Science Department at Yale, arrived home after a Thursday afternoon bike ride and was relieved to find his absentee ballot waiting for him in the mail. As a political scientist currently researching trends in absentee and mail-in voting, Huber told the News he had been worried about complications during unprecedented levels of absentee voting.
Then, he opened his envelope to discover he had been sent the wrong ballot.
Huber is one of the dozens of New Haven residents who have faced complications with their absentee ballots. City Clerk Michael Smart issued a press release on Friday asking anyone who received a ballot with “ballot errors” or “incorrect districts” to call his office and the issue would be corrected within 24 hours. As of Oct. 1, the city has received 11,000 requests for absentee ballots and the city clerk has processed and mailed out over 5,000. Smart said such mistakes were to be expected with the historic volume of ballots and claimed that there have not been more than a “handful” of mistakes.
“It just happens,” Smart said. “You’re talking double the volume, maybe there’s some volunteers that didn’t understand, but if anybody has an issue, just let us know.”
On Monday, Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth received an email from a constituent saying they had received their absentee ballot envelopes in the mail, but there was no ballot in either envelope. Roth said the constituent was unsure what they needed to do to actually retrieve their means of voting. She also noted she has been getting a few calls or emails a day from people who have been waiting weeks for a ballot, had a missing ballot or received a ballot that belonged to someone else.
Huber also said his mother-in-law, Susan Simon, was also sent the wrong ballot — one that belongs to a woman living in Fair Haven.
“We’re getting a lot of questions, and people are anxious,” Roth said. “Obviously, we have to make sure going forward that there is really good quality control as ballots are sent out to people.”
Roth said she has noticed more anxiety from her constituents as election day creeps closer. She said some of them never received their absentee ballots for the primaries and had to choose either not to vote or to put their health at risk and vote in person.
Roth told the News she did not envy the clerk’s position in dealing with the wealth of ballot requests. However, she mentioned that the clerk’s office had been able to recently increase their staff capacity due to a $93,000 grant from the state approved by the Board of Alders last Monday.
As a member of the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee for the Board of Alders, Roth deals directly with affairs concerning the city clerk and registrar of voters’ offices. She said the committee is scheduled to meet with Smart and the Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans on Thursday to help clarify how they can communicate to their constituents about how to react to mishaps.
“This is unlike any election ever,” Roth said. “We have to get information to people about how the process works. I’ve had people who have lived in the city for decades call me with questions about what to do. I’m hoping in the next few weeks there will be more messaging on the process.”
Aaron Goode, co-founder of local voting organization New Haven Votes, said he wished the clerk’s office could release an exact number on how many people have been affected by issues with absentee voting. He is also encouraging the city clerk’s office to launch an education campaign in the city — telling residents to double check their ballot information so that sending in the wrong ballot would not result in disqualified votes.
“It’s a communication problem above all else,” Goode said. “From what I’ve seen, the city does not seem to be responding adequately.”
Smart stressed the scope of the issue has remained minor and said his office has succeeded in remedying all the problems they have been notified of within 24 hours. Huber said his mistaken ballot was replaced with the correct one within this time frame as well.
With the election looming just three weeks away, Goode said he was happy these problems were being discovered and addressed in advance. As someone who has spent years following and facilitating elections, Goode said that if this problem were to become more widespread, it would be a “nightmare scenario.”
“We need to avoid that at all costs,” Goode said.
Though voting mix-ups in New Haven are a small scale problem right now, Huber said that there is pressure now more than ever for the people of New Haven, and the country, to feel like their elections are fair and democratic.
Roth said avoiding these scenarios is especially critical for this election season, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of absentee and mail-in voting in an effort to discredit the process. Roth also said that thanks to this rhetoric, she anticipates more people voting in person than expected, even amid safety concerns, to make certain their vote is counted.
“We don’t want to create any opportunity for [electoral] challenges,” Roth said. “It’s incredibly important that people feel everything was done accurately. It’s critical.”
For questions or concerns regarding ballots for the upcoming election, contact the city clerk’s office phone line at (203) 946-8349.
Thomas Birmingham | firstname.lastname@example.org