With an eye on November, the state Republican Party has taken its concern for potential voter fraud to a new level, creating its own citizen task force to record and investigate cases of potential fraud.
Party Chairman J.R. Romano, who has said he’s not opposed to expanding mail-in balloting, rails against the state’s decision to mail absentee ballot applications to every active voter eligible to vote in the upcoming August primary — about 1.2 million people — claiming the practice will lead to widespread voter fraud.
“If someone reported to us that they got an absentee ballot application for someone that has been dead for 12 years, we’re going to investigate to see if this person has actually cast a ballot to be listed as an active voter,” Romano said.
The task force would ease reporting of possible abuses to party and elections officials.
But as Democrats see it, charges of fraud in elections are a Republican lie and a task force is not needed.
“The last 30 years of voting statistics in Connecticut prove that voting by absentee ballot is not a problem, and has never been a problem, in Connecticut,” said state Sen. Mae Flexer, who co-chairs the legislature’s Government Administration & Elections Committee. “The Connecticut Republican Party has got to stop parroting President Trump’s lies about voter fraud, and it has to stand up for democracy and individual rights.”
While mistakes do happen, actual cases of voter fraud are exceedingly rare. A 2014 study published in the Washington Post found 31 credible incidences out of 1 billion ballots cast. In Connecticut, it is estimated there have been just 20 convictions for absentee ballot fraud out of 1.5 million absentee ballots cast in the past 30 years, Flexer said — most of those involving elderly people who voted absentee without proper cause.
Connecticut is among the states that requires voters to be incapacitated or out of state in order to vote by absentee ballot. Initiatives to widen it have failed but because of coronavirus, Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order allowing any voter to claim fear of the illness as a reason to seek an absentee ballot.
Many lawmakers want to extend that rule to the November election, a change that would require a vote in the General Assembly.
State Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he had no problem with expanding absentee voting excuses to include COVID, but he was opposed to widespread mailing of the absentee ballot applications, saying he feels it opens up an easier opportunity for “bad actors” to engage in fraud.
“My concern from the very beginning was the purging of the list,” Fasano said. “I’m in favor of adding absentee ballots the normal way during COVID but [Secretary of the State] Denise Merrill took it to a new level, a different level. This isn’t a Trump thing for crying out loud. This has to do with actual fraud that can be committed. People should be entitled to vote, with COVID as an excuse, but there is no reason why she has to mail out the ballot applications.”
Nationally, about 15 percent of election mail is “returned to sender” as people move or die without updating their or their family members’ voter registrations. In Conncticut, about 8 percent of the mailed ballot applications have been returned, said Merrill’s spokesman, Gabe Rosenberg.
Five separate lawsuits have been filed against the state concerning the absentee ballot process — four opposed to the practice of expanding mail-in voting in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and seeking to require the change by court order.
Lamont, during his daily press briefing Thursday, quipped that he was, “shocked to hear there’s gambling in Casablanca.”
“I guess it’s a bit of a political game,” he said. “I don’t want older folks in particular, folks who fear for their health, to have to go line up at the ballot box. August is going to be a forerunner to what’s going to happen in November. November is going to be a very big election. So if they don’t like our plan for absentee balloting, what are they saying? Line up and take your medicine?”