Is Early Voting A Good Idea For Connecticut?

Last week, we highlighted a commentary by Minnesota Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie.  We mentioned our reservations with implementing one of his suggestions for improvement in Connecticut.  From Ritchie’s commentary:

Implementing early voting can greatly eliminate the number of people casting absentee ballots and thus reduce the number of rejected absentee ballots.

Connecticut (like the other New England states) is not Minnesota.  Most states have county election management, while New England has town election management.  At CTVotersCount we are conditionally against* early voting for Connecticut.   We are concerned that it could be a costly, risky proposition.  Here are our major reservations:

  • If  early voting polling places were set-up with a full complement of election officials using optical scanners and a strong chain of custody it could be reasonably safe.  That is a big and costly “if”.   Since we have 169 towns, each independently managing their own polling places – each would have to set-up and manage at least one polling place.  One would be enough since optical scanners can be setup to handle multiple ballot types, from multiple districts, such as they are now setup in many towns absentee ballot counting.  Three days of absentee voting would add about 60% to the current election day costs in the state,  putting a highly disproportionate burden on small towns.  (Officials frequently complain about the burden of post-election audits, which represent a fraction of the costs of opening 169 polling places for just one day).  Another risk/cost of consolidated early voting is that more care and more risk is involved to make sure voters are given the correct ballot and replacements for spoiled ballots.
  • Managing multiple days of voting and chain-of-custody provides additional opportunities for error or fraud, requiring additional procedures and vigilance.   Post-election Audit Observation Audit Reports from the Coalition have shown frequent violations of procedures, including chain-of-custody violationsUConn Memory Card Audits have also show frequent failures in following current procedures.  We will remain skeptical that early voting can be secure, until there is a convincing change in following existing procedures.
  • We have heard proposals that Early Voting  could be accomplished by having a voting machine in the “corner” of the Registrar’s or Town Clerk’s office or by having an equivalent of an absentee ballot voted at the Registrar’s or Town Clerk’s office.  We find both of these ‘low budget’ options questionable.  One of the problems Mark Ritchie  is trying to solve for Minnesota with early voting, is decreasing the volume of absentee votes, which are costly and have a high frequency of disenfranchising voters.  Voters are disenfranchised primarily because they made an innocent mistake which disqualifies, for good reasons, their ballot from being counted.  Absentee voting also disenfranchises voters because they are not offered an opportunity to correct overvotes (unlike ballots submitted by the voter to a scanner).  There are also chain-of-custody issues. A scanner in the ‘corner” etc. is insufficient – voting requires a tabulator tender, registration list checkers, and ballot clerks – especially when there are several ballot types being voted in one place.  We tend to think of a few absentee ballots, but a more correct assumption is that a large percentage of voters will choose to vote early – their votes will provide the critical margin to many contests.
  • Finally, early voting shortens current deadlines and increases complexity.  Each day of early voting is another day earlier that candidates, ballots, and memory cards must be finalized and petitions completed.  Each day of early voting impacts primary dates and the time period between primaries and elections.  It extends the window and complexity if a candidate pulls out of a race or becomes incapacitated.

Elections are primarily about democracy – citizens choosing and controlling our government.  Voter convenience is a high priority along with security and integrity.  Cost and election official convenience are also important considerations.  While skeptical, we remain open to the possibility that voters, legislators, and election officials  might be willing to pay the price, develop procedures, and manage elections in a way that early voting with integrity would require.

(*) When we say we are “Conditionally Against” a proposition, we mean that nobody has proposed a realistic safe way to accomplish the proposition.  We remain open to the possibility that a means may be found that would pass the scrutiny of the majority of computer scientists, security experts, election officials, and voting integrity advocates.

(*) When we say we are “Conditionally For” a proposition, we mean that other states have safe implementations of the proposition or computer scientists, security experts, election officials, and voting integrity advocates have recommended a safe solution.  We caution that a particular implementation or law may not meet a reasonable standard of safety.

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