Making Every Voter Equal: Uniformity, especially for ‘curing’ mail-in ballots.

For years we have been complaining that Election Day Registration (EDR) in Connecticut may well be a civil rights violation. Now we find that we may well have a similar problem contained in the rushed procedures for handling the volume of mail-in voting.

The basic requirement is that all voters and potential voters be treated equally to make elections fair to everyone.  We are talking making them equal in just a single state. Obviously they are quite different from state to state. E.g. in Connecticut felons can vote, while in some other states they cannot, and in FL they have great difficulties restoring their right to vote. E.g. Connecticut normally requires a excuse for mail-in voting, many states do not, while others add barriers of one or two witnesses to submit an absentee ballot. E.g. other barriers are fewer polling places or fewer voting machines in minority districts in some states.  We could go on.

When it comes to EDR, since the beginning it has caused inequality in even year elections in Connecticut. This is likely unintentionally, yet that makes it no less unfair and unequal, and no less a civil-rights violation waiting to be challenged. It may have finally been addressed this year as we have seen no reports of problems. In past even years we have seen long lines in Hartford, Bridgeport, and most glaringly in New Haven and in some university towns. The problem is two fold. First such towns have many, many more transient populations of voters that causes more demand for EDR. Second, especially in larger cities there less budget for elections and apparently registrars not up the the larger planning and logistic challenges for those cities. We are not saying that city registrars are less competent than many of their peers, but a bigger challenge demands in addition to more compensation (which they have) more planning and execution capability.

When in comes to mail-in voting, especially the rushed and ever changing process this time – there are lots of areas demanding uniformity. Here we do not know all the answers. As far as we know, all the clerks kept up with demands to turn-around absentee applications and absentee ballots in reasonable time. As far as we know, all towns processed and counted the large number of ballots in a reasonable time. However, when it comes to “curing” ballots from what we have heard there was no uniform process. Likely some towns made some attempt at cures and others did not, overall not very uniform and likely favoring some voters and disfavoring others.

What is “curing?” We define it as any process that allows voters to correct a situation where their mail-in ballot would otherwise be rejected. Perhaps signing an inner envelope. Perhaps attesting that it is indeed their signature. Perhaps being given an opportunity to supply a new ballot or to attest that they put their ballot outside the inner envelope or neglected to submit the inner envelope.

There is a lot to uniformity here.

  • The process has to be uniform across the State, articulated in detail, published for everyone,followed by officials uniformly, observable by the public, able to see the details are followed (or not followed), and enforced.
  • What can be cured, how it can be cured, how voters are notified, and the deadlines specified.
  • And in practice it has to be uniform and fair. If the small town has a hand full of cases, finds them five days before the election, knows how to contact each voter even though they don’t have current phone numbers or emails, and does so – then its not fair if the large city has hundreds, finds them later under huge processing demands, does not give voters about the same amount of time to cure, and cannot give equal attention to locating each voter – its unfair.
  • If some towns call out the names of every such voter, give access to observers from each party, so they can call such voters – and other towns don’t do that or its somehow harder for large town observers to do the work or are given less time – its unfair.
  • If some demographics have a harder time submitting acceptable ballot packages or a harder time actually curing then it may be unfair.

Cures can work. Fairness might include:

  • Standards for how quickly after receipt or after election day cures must be detected and noticed to voters.
  • Mandatory contact methods: Call and leave voice mails or not, send emails or not, and mandatory letters.
  • Enough days for a voter to receive a postal letter and respond.
  • Uniform and multiple methods for response. Some states allow cures by internet application, phone, email, postal mail etc. Some only by personal appearance which is tough for those with disabilities.

Overall it means that the deadline for counting all votes would need to extend at least a couple weeks after the deadline for receipt of a mail-in ballot.  It really should not allow a voter to submit a new ballot after election day. Procedures should be followed that do preclude officials knowing how a voter voted before choosing to offer a cure.

We are not sure Connecticut is ready to delay counting for a couple of weeks. If so, then there is a lot in the law that needs changing: When we call for and perform recanvasses, certification dates, and in some cases when municipal winners are declared and take office.

 

 

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