By Susan Haigh
Voters were expected to rubber-stamp Republican President Donald Trump and former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden in Connecticut’s quiet presidential primary on Tuesday, while also determining the final GOP candidates in two congressional races.
Democratic and Republican primaries were also being held in more than a dozen state legislative races, as well as a couple local registrar of voters contests.
But the main event was expected to be the election itself and how well everything goes, given the anticipated large numbers of absentee ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic and the last-minute rush to return electricity to dozens of voting locations after Tropical Storm Isaisas roared through the state last week. Officials hope to learn from the primary to make sure things run smoothly in November.
“This really helped us in a system that we’ve never used in Connecticut,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, a Democrat, referring to the fact the state has typically only allowed absentee ballots for a handful of reasons, such as active duty military service and being out-of-town on Election Day. Concerns about contracting the virus have recently been added to the list of eligible excuses for both the primary and general election.
On Monday, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order that gives election officials until Thursday to count the ballots, so long as they’re postmarked with Tuesday’s date of Aug. 11. Merrill had made the request because of the storm and other issues that delayed the delivery of applications and ballots. Also, power outages affected the election workers’ abilities to process ballots.
Some Republican legislators have criticized the move, accusing Merrill, a Democrat, of mishandling the temporary expanded absentee ballot system. They’ve cited delays in ballots being sent to voters and other issues. Merrill said it’s been an “unprecedented situation” given the pandemic, noting “our job is to allow people to vote under very trying circumstances.”
As of Monday afternoon, seven polling places still had no electricity but were able to operate using generators. Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for Merrill, said the office was urging the electricity utility Eversource to have those back online for Tuesday. Meanwhile, he said Frontier Communications was hoping to finish restoring internet services to the affected city and town halls.
It’s unclear how large the in-person voter turnout will be. Merrill said there were about 300,000 requests for absentee ballots, which is about 10 times the highest number of requests for absentee ballots for any election in Connecticut. In many communities, however, large number of those ballots were not returned.
Both Trump and Biden are facing challengers, even though they’re expected to easily win on Tuesday. California real estate developer and businessman Rocque “Rocky” De La Fuente is challenging Trump, while Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard are challenging Biden, even though both suspended their campaigns. In each race, voters can also choose to vote “uncommitted.”
In the Republican primary in the 1st Congressional District, the party-endorsed candidate Mary Fay, a financial services executive and member of the West Hartford Town Council, is being challenged by James Griffin of Bristol, a West Point graduate who worked on military and budget issues during a career in Washington.
In the 2nd Congressional District GOP primary, the party-endorsed candidate and 29-year-old political newcomer who has worked in construction management, Thomas Gilmer of Madison, is being challenged by Justin Anderson of East Haddam, a lieutenant colonel in the Connecticut Army National Guard who served two combat tours in Afghanistan.
Polls will be open on Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in the primary.
Unlike some other states, Connecticut decided to keep polling places open while also providing voters with the option to mail in their ballots. Some communities have moved polls to locations where there’s more room to socially distance.