Opinion: State must allow early processing of mail-in ballots
There is an imperative to tabulate votes in this year’s presidential election as quickly as possible. Why? Because President Trump has shown that he will go to extraordinary lengths to undermine the election, especially with respect to mail-in ballots.
That’s why more than 20 activist groups, representing thousands of Connecticut voters, are calling on the Connecticut General Assembly to pass legislation to allow for early processing of absentee ballots beginning one week ahead of Election Day. We are pleased with the positive response we’ve received from Democratic leadership and hope this will attract bipartisan support.
In addition to safeguarding the public’s trust in the election outcome, early processing could help protect an estimated 19,000 voters from being unintentionally disenfranchised. Opening absentee ballot outer envelopes starting one week ahead of Election Day makes it possible for Town Clerks to contact voters whose absentee ballots have been rejected for reasons such as not signing or sealing the inner envelope, allowing them to submit a new absentee ballot (or vote in person). Opening the inner envelope for additional processing closer to Election Day would expedite vote counting once the polls close, without compromising ballot security.
Donald Trump has waged a relentless campaign against the integrity of voting by mail, tweeting “Mail-In Voting, unless changed by the courts, will lead to the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History!” He has made the issue blatantly partisan, claiming that mail-in voting “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” His campaign sued New Jersey, Nevada, Montana — all led by Democratic governors — to curtail use of mail-in voting.
Dozens of studies have concluded that voter fraud, including mail-in voting, is extremely rare. Even Trump’s own Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity disbanded without finding evidence of widespread voter fraud. Republican officials are pushing back on the president’s baseless claims about voting fraud, including Senate Majority Whip John Thune, who was explicit that mail-in voting is “secure.”
Now, Trump is demanding that results be known on the night of the election. Trevor Potter, president of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center and former Republican-appointed chair of the Federal Election Commission, noted the possibility that Trump will say, “We should stop counting ballots.” Some experts warn of the possibility of Trump deploying federal officials to states to interfere with vote counting.
Early processing of absentee ballots would frustrate Trump’s efforts to sow doubt about the integrity of the election by making it easier to conclude vote counting sooner rather than later after Election Day. Voting experts say that avoiding lengthy delays in reporting election results is critical to maintaining the public’s trust.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 32 states already allow some degree of early absentee ballot processing. Lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation to expedite absentee vote counting, including in battleground states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Experts say concerns that a premature release of election results that could influence election outcomes are unfounded; procedures and penalties protect this from happening. In Connecticut, absentee ballots are secured before and after they are opened.
Allowing Town Clerks to process absentee ballots ahead of Election Day achieves a second vitally important objective: ensuring that every vote is counted. In Connecticut’s August presidential primary, some 3,600 absentee ballots were rejected, mostly for inadvertent voter errors of not sealing or signing the inner envelope. At approximately 2 percent of absentee ballots cast, the rate is double the proportion of rejected mail-in ballots nationwide in 2016.
Giving Town Clerks the authority to open absentee ballot outer envelopes a week in advance of Election Day is a simple solution to protect voters who could be disenfranchised. They could attempt to contact these voters, allowing them to submit a new ballot (or to vote in person). Indeed, 19 states already mandate that voters be notified and given an opportunity to correct common mistakes including missing signatures. Connecticut should afford its voters equal protection.
Ideally, early absentee ballot vote processing and allowing voters to cure ballot mistakes would be mandated by legislative action — our democracy is that valuable. However, we would be satisfied with legislative action to entrust local election officials with the authority to take these actions.
Jonathan Perloe is with Voter Choice Connecticut, which is joined by these organizations: Action Together Connecticut; Bridgeport Generation Now VOTES!; CT River Huddle, Indivisible Group; CT Shoreline Indivisible; Democratic Women in Action; Every Vote Counts; Indivisible Greenwich; Indivisible Stamford; Make Voting Easy; Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; Orange Indivisible; PerSisters; Prevail Blue; Quiet Corner Shouts!; Take Action CT; Universal Health Care Foundation of CT; Women on Watch; Women United; Women’s March Connecticut.