Know Your Town: Ask The Registrar

By Jim Simon
Registrar Town of Stratford

Q: After all the talk about absentee or mail-in ballots last November, how often were they
actually used in Stratford? What is the normal number?

Use of absentee or mail-in ballots was much higher in Stratford in 2020 than in 2016. Of the 28,194 ballots cast during the presidential election in Stratford, 9,186 were absentee or mail-in or 32.6% of all ballots cast. In 2016, when the state did not mail absentee applications to all voters and there were limits on who could vote by mail, absentees represented 8.7% of the 25,251 total votes cast for president.

Q: Why does Connecticut usually make it so difficult to vote by mail?

The Connecticut Constitution restricts the use of absentee or mail-in ballots to voters who will have an “absence from the city or town of which they are inhabitants or because of sickness, or physical disability or because the tenets of their religion forbid secular activity.” Hoping to reduce human contact at the polls during the coronavirus, Gov. Lamont declared an emergency in 2020 due to COVID-19, and Secretary of State Denise Merrill mailed out applications for absentee ballots to every registered voter in the state.

Q: Will absentee ballot applications be mailed to everyone again for this November’s
Mayoral and Town Council races in Stratford?
Given the state Constitutional limitation, it is unlikely for the state to act, unless the pandemic
continues to rage on, justifying another emergency declaration. Short of a similar emergency, it
will take an amendment to the state constitution to open up the process in the future. Democrats
in Hartford are expected to move in that direction in 2022.

Q: Does mail-in voting in Stratford help one party more than the other?

Political scientists have long argued that Republicans do better among mail-in or absentee voters or that there is no advantage. (See https://www.pnas.org/content/117/25/14052) But any GOP edge may have been lost in 2020 by Connecticut mailing applications to all voters, thereby making it easier for more casual Democratic voters to take part.

In Stratford, where Republicans usually enjoy an edge among absentee balloters, 40.2% of the votes for Democrat Joe Biden were cast via mail; 20.0 percent of the votes received by Republican Donald Trump were by mail. But President Trump encouraged his supporters to go to the polls and vote in person in 2002, instead of mailing in their ballots, complicating any analysis.

Q: If absentee voting is again limited this fall in Stratford, what impact will it have?

In Stratford, Republicans are traditionally better organized and more aggressive in getting absentee applications to people who want them and qualify for their use. GOP candidates generally receive more absentee votes in town council races than do the Democrats.

This fall, each party will have the expanded list of party members who voted by mail in 2020, and both parties are likely to see if these voters want to do so again in 2021 (if they qualify under state law).

Q: Whatever happened to those two white Ballot Drop Boxes they had aside Town Hall for last fall’s election?

I found them to be an efficient way to drop off absentee ballots. They are sitting in the basement of Town Hall, while officials ponder their possible use in future elections.

Q: What is to prevent the Town Clerk or Registrars of Voters from simply throwing away a boxful of mail-in ballots that are received from those Ballot Drop boxes or through the mail?

In many ways, Connecticut has an ideal voting system, in my humble opinion, and uses several safeguards. If you mail-in a ballot, you can go to the Secretary of State’s website — https://portaldir.ct.gov/sots/LookUp.aspx — and see if it has officially been received. Try it; it still works for 2020 absente ballots.

Another check is that the Town Clerk opens the ballots and does an official count; once they are given to the Registrars for processing by a team of counters, their final count number has to match the number counted by the Town Clerk.

Q: Why do they always change the voting district lines in Stratford? Are they going to do it again?

Each district must have roughly the same number of voters (within 10 percent of one another). The 2020 Census will show the revised number of residents in Stratford, and the state Legislature will then redraw its district lines in time for the November 2022 election. Stratford will then take the census data and consider redistricting in time for the 2023 town council election. Problems occur when the lines are gerrymandered, or redrawn to favor one party over the other. But you will vote for Mayor and Town Council in the same polling place as usual this fall, for 2021.

Editor’s Note: Registrar James Simon worked as a political reporter for10 years with The Associated Press, then taught political journalism for 18 years as a professor and dean at Fairfield University. He became one of the two Stratford Registrars on Jan. 6, 2021. MORE QUESTIONS? PLEASE SEND THEM TO REGISTRAR JIM SIMON; jsimon@townofstratford.com.

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