Republican lawmakers issued a rebuke to the Secretary of State’s Office last week over the suspension of supervised absentee ballot voting at some residential facilities for the August 9 primary vote after Gov. Ned Lamont extended Connecticut’s public health emergency declaration last month.
“When Governor Lamont renewed his public health emergency declaration last month he claimed he had no intention of using his renewed state of emergency for anything other than securing federal funds. Today, we see that was completely false,” wrote Republican leaders Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, and Sen. Rob Sampson and Rep. Gail Mastrofrancesco, both of Wolcott, in a press release. “The Secretary of the State’s Office – led by an appointee handpicked by the Governor – is using Gov. Lamont’s public health emergency declaration to suspend state rules regarding absentee balloting for a specific population of voters across the state.”
According to the email from Director of Elections Theodore Bromley, the Secretary of State’s Office directed town clerks to mail absentee ballots to individuals in residential facilities that would otherwise may have had access to supervised absentee voting by the registrar of voters or their designees at the request of either the facility or the registrar of voters.
“As you may be aware, the Governor has recently continued the Public Health Emergency because of COVID. As such, pursuant to CGS Section 9-159q below, our office will suspend supervised absentee ballot voting for the August 9, 2022 primary,” the email says. “As such, all town clerks should prepare and provide absentee ballots by mail to any individual in a residence that would have been covered by supervised absentee balloting for the August 9, 2022 primary.”
The statute referenced by the email applies to facilities in which 20 or fewer residents are eligible voters and town registrars had the discretion to refuse a supervised voting request by a residential facility if they deem it unnecessary.
The suspension does not appear to apply to facilities in which there are more than 20 voters, a provision covered under a separate section of the statute addressing mandatory supervised voting at residential facilities.
Although Republicans conceded the Secretary of State’s move was “within the letter of the law” under absentee voting revisions made in 2021, they argue that the law “envisioned another pandemic or true emergency; not one in which the Governor declared an emergency merely to receive federal funds.”
Lamont extended Connecticut’s emergency declaration to continue receiving additional federal funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and reimbursements for non-congregate housing, adding that he would not issue additional executive orders under the emergency declaration.
The suspension of supervised absentee voting in residential care facilities is not part of an executive order, however.
According to the 2021 bill, the Secretary of State may suspend supervised absentee voting at residential facilities so long as it is done “in recognition of a public health or civil preparedness emergency declared by the governor,” according to the bill analysis.
Republicans, however, argue that the suspension of supervised absentee voting is not within “the spirit” of the law and called on Gov. Lamont to reverse the change made by Secretary of State Mark Kohler, who Lamont appointed after long-time Secretary of the State Denise Merrill stepped down to care for her husband.
“The Governor’s appointee, not even an elected official, is suspending rules related to voting access in our state using the public health emergency declaration that Gov. Lamont installed without input or consultation from the legislature,” Kelly, Candelora, Sampson and Mastrofrancesco wrote. “If Governor Lamont only intended to extend the public health emergency to secure federal funds, then he must immediately instruct the Secretary of the State’s Office and his appointee to abide by all rules, regulations, and procedures guided by our constitution to protect voters’ rights and prevent voter disenfranchisement.”
The Secretary of State’s Office did not return request for comment.