Jessie Cheung, Contributing Photographer
After multiple reports of voters receiving the wrong ballots and other problems with mail-in voting, City Clerk Michael Smart announced Tuesday that his office will be making curbside absentee voting available to New Haven residents this weekend as an additional measure to handle a historic number of absentee ballots.
This new measure will allow voters to go through the entire absentee ballot voting process at City Clerk’s Office, Smart’s office said in a press release. The office, located at 200 Orange St., will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. the Saturday and Sunday before the election on Nov. 3. If a voter never received their ballot or had an error with their application, they will be able to avoid potential pitfalls via the mail and complete each step of the process in one appointment. Social distancing and face masks will be required, and if a voter is unable to attend on either day, they have the option of scheduling an appointment with the city clerk on Monday, Nov. 2 by calling the office’s hotline.
Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa chairs the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee, which holds jurisdiction over city elections. She said this measure comes as a response to the volume of absentee ballot requests and the volume of complaints about the process directed at the city.
“This is just one more option [for voters], and that’s a positive,” Festa said. “I think the demand came through residents questioning the process and wanting additional ways to be able to vote.”
Smart did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the News for additional information on this new measure.
The city clerk’s office has reported well over 15,000 absentee ballot requests this election cycle — a record number for the Elm City. Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth said curbside absentee voting had been previously implemented during the primary election to great success.
“This is sort of an escape valve for people,” Roth said. “A lot of people took advantage of this in the primary, in part because people had never received their ballots.”
Festa stressed that the clerk’s office is trying their best to keep up with the increased demand for absentee ballots, despite several “glitches” over the last few weeks. She said she was confident that the issues had been fixed and noted that this new measure is an example of the city’s commitment to ensuring all New Haven residents have an equal opportunity to participate this election cycle, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don’t have time to blame anybody,” Festa said. “We need action. We need to make sure all votes count and all voters have the option to vote. And we’re seeing that now.”
At a press conference on Thursday, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker stated that the city has been doing everything in their power to support Smart and his team. Elicker said he had sent various members of his own staff to the city clerk’s office to help process paperwork. He also said that his office helped to facilitate the hiring of additional temporary staff for the city clerk earlier this month. Elicker echoed Festa in saying that his confidence in the city clerk has only grown as the election draws nearer.
Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Rebecca Bombero said that as of Thursday, the state’s ballot tracking tool was completely up to date and available for New Haven residents to use. In agreement with Elicker and Festa, she said that with the election days away, she believes the city is prepared to manage both the volume of ballots and any potential issues.
“I was very pleased to see today that some of the staff were able to do non-ballot work,” Bombero said. “They are caught up and current. While the phones continue to ring, they are able to address people’s concerns.”
The hotline number for the city clerk’s office for pressing voting concerns, or for scheduling a curbside absentee voting appointment, is 203-946-6400.
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