The recent ruling by the SEEC involved 14 towns with 15 complaints and four referrals. In examining the document details, questions remain for the State Enforcement Elections Commissions given the circumstances and results of their investigations. Here is a summary of what the public is entitled to know about the allegations, law, investigation, analysis and conclusion.
Allegations: and/or with evidence presented:
- more than 5 unsolicited absentee ballot (AB) applications were distributed to persons other than immediate family.
- in each allegation, the respondent distributors may not have followed all the prescriptions in CT General Statutes (CGS) 9-140(a), (k), and (1) regarding the registering and tracking of the AB application distribution to 5 or more non-family individuals.
- most matters, the respondent distributor was a candidate, agent of a candidate, or agent of a town committee.
Law: CGS 9-140 – most “absentee ballot” usage is typed, “AB”
(a) – “Application for an AB shall be made to the clerk of the municipality in which the applicant is eligible to vote or has applied for such eligibility. The municipal clerk shall maintain a log of all AB applications provided under this subsection, including 1) the name and address of each person to whom applications are provided and 2) the number of applications provided to each such person. Each AB application provided by the municipal clerk shall be consecutively numbered and be stamped or marked with the name of the municipality issuing the application.”
(k)(1) A person shall register with the town clerk before distributing 5 or more AB applications for an election, primary or referendum, not including applications distributed to such person’s immediate family. Such requirement shall not apply to a person who is the designee of an applicant.
- Any person who distributes AB applications shall maintain a list of the names and addresses of prospective AB applicants who receive such applications, and shall file such list with the town clerk prior to the date of the primary, election or referendum for which the applications were so distributed. Any person who distributes AB applications and receives an executed application shall forthwith file the application with the town clerk.
- No candidate, party or political committee, or agent of such candidate or committee shall mail unsolicited applications for absentee ballots to any person, unless such mailing includes: (1)A written explanation of the eligibility requirements for voting by AB as prescribed in subsection (a) of section 9-135, and (2) a written warning that voting or attempting to vote by AB without meeting one or more of such eligibility requirements subjects the elector or applicant to potential civil and criminal penalties. As used in this subsection, “agent” means any person authorized to act on behalf of another person.
- (m) The Secretary of the State shall conspicuously post on the Secretary of State’s website, adjacent to the AB application form available for downloading, a notice that the application may be downloaded by a person only for 1) the person’s own use, 2) the use of a member of the person’s immediate family, or 3) the use of a designee of the applicant. The notice shall also contain an advisory statement concerning the requirements of subsection (k) of this section. (Emphasis added.)
The Commission then outlines a 9-step process that would ideally take place. They note following that they “previously had found that law enforcement investigations involving large-scale AB application distributions were difficult to conduct without controls in place….especially by candidates and campaigns.” (Item 17).
The Commission interprets the data in light of prior cases in item 19: “in all but one case since 2005, the [SEEC] has found that where the respondent distributor made best efforts to substantially comply and the respondent distributor’s failure to fully comply would not have compromised law enforcement’s ability to associate an AB application to a particular distributor, a civil penalty was unnecessary with the expectation that the respondent distributor would strictly comply in the future. No respondent in these matters appeared before the Commission for a repeat of such activity.”
The SEEC investigation, notably [emphasis added]:
- obtained the available records of each distribution from both election officials and the individual responsible for the distribution.
- Where necessary, the investigation interviewed the elections officials
Distribution amounts – size of distributions was substantially larger than those found in prior cases. Size varied from 2000-5200 applications in each municipality. SEEC claims that the uptick in AB utilization is in accordance with access to AB ballots in 2020 – 2021.
Registration with Town Clerk – “compliance was substantial in most instances.” SEEC claims “the respondent distributor communicated with the Town Clerk before making their distribution. Newington as outlier with comms AFTER distribution.
Sources and Serialization – the investigation revealed common confusion both among Town Clerks and distributors as to the questions of the correct source of the absentee ballot applications and the requirements for marking them with the town’s name and a unique number assigned by the Town Clerk.
Part II will cover:
Application Source, Numbering, Record Maintenance, etc. Followed by the SEEC analysis, Tribune commentary, quotes and open questions.