Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski is requesting to have voter challengers at polling places in Meriden and other cities on Election Day.
Challengers are allowed by state law, but they must be approved by local registrars of voters, and can “challenge the right of any person offering to vote” based on specific grounds.
“Those people are just there to make sure that people who are eligible to vote can vote,” Kendall Marr, a spokesman for Stefanowski’s campaign, said Friday.
Registrars and a spokesman for Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill said campaigns rarely make such a request, and couldn’t recall the last time someone challenged a ballot.
“We had to blow dust off” the statute, said Gabe Rosenberg, Merrill’s spokesman.
State Democratic party Chairman Nick Balletto wrote a letter Friday urging Merrill to reiterate that registrars are not required to comply with the request for challengers.
He wrote that the effort “appears, irrefutably, to be a voter suppression tactic” aimed at discouraging voters from going to the polls.
“We simply cannot tolerate any attempt to intimidate, harass, and disenfranchise voters here in Connecticut,” Balletto wrote.
Rosenberg said Merrill’s office has been advising registrars of their rights and responsibilites per the law “as early as last week.
Marr called the Balletto’s letter “just so clearly false and a desperate tactic” after a Sacred Heart University poll found Stefanowski leading Democrat Ned Lamont by 2.4 points.
Sue Larsen, Democratic registrar in South Windsor and president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, said her office didn’t receive a request, but that she had heard that a handful of others did. Meriden and Waterbury officials both said they received requests.
“If that’s going to happen, I would think it’s going to happen in the cities,” Larsen said. Rosenberg said
Merrill’s office also heard that New Haven and New London had received requests.
Tim DeCarlo, the Republican registrar in Waterbury, said he denied the request because he didn’t think a challenger would be necessary.
“I just don’t see a need for lawyers at the poll,” he said.
State law allows challengers, if appointed by a registrar, to contest someone’s right to vote on the grounds that the voter isn’t who they claim to be, doesn’t have the right to vote, or doesn’t live within the voting district.
The challenger must provide evidence under oath to a moderator, who decides whether to uphold the challenge or allow the person to vote.
“Challenges shall not be made indiscriminately and may only be made if the challenger knows, suspects or reasonably believes such a person not to be qualified and entitled to vote,” according to state law.
If the moderator upholds the challenge, a voter can still request to submit provisional and challenge ballots that are then sealed. The validity of the ballot gets revisited if the results of the election are contested.
Marr wasn’t sure Friday if any registrars had agreed to the request, nor did he know who the campaign would offer as challengers. He said the existence of the law shows lawmakers believed challengers could play an important role in elections.
“Legislators have determined that there’s a need or it wouldn’t be in the code,” he said.
In his letter, Balletto said that challenges have occurred rarely, if ever. He raised concern that challengers would instead create delays and intimidation for voters, particularly lower-income residents and minorities.
Larsen, meanwhile, said voters who are unsure of their registration status can check ahead at https://portaldir.ct.gov/sots/LookUp.aspx
Voters who are listed as inactive should still go to their polling place, where a moderator can reactive their registration. Voters who are not registered can go to their town’s Election Day Registration location, typically at town hall, to register on the day of the election.