With three weeks to go before Election Day on Nov. 8, voters who are unable to vote in person but still want to cast a ballot can do so by absentee ballot, which are now available through the Wilton Town Clerk’s office.
As has always been the case, in order to vote absentee, voters must first request an application for an absentee ballot to provide the reason for being unable to vote in person. But even though they never asked for them, thousands of Wilton voters have received applications in the mail, thanks to a strategy increasingly used by both Democrats and Republicans.
Why the Fuss About Absentee Voting?
Voting by absentee ballot was not always a widely-used way to cast a vote — but then the COVID pandemic happened. Clearly, necessity raised the profile of voting absentee. In 2020, when the nation was in its first year of dealing with the pandemic, the state of Connecticut provided citizens who were afraid to be in enclosed public spaces with the ability to safely cast a ballot in the general election. The state’s solution was to allow any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot, and so the CT Secretary of State mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.
More than 665,000 state residents voted by absentee ballot in 2020 — 35% of all votes cast that year. In Wilton, 5,269 people voted absentee — or 44.2% of all votes cast. Compare that with the prior two general elections: in 2018, 11.3% of Wilton voted by absentee ballot; and in 2016, 14.4% of Wilton’s voters chose to cast their votes absentee.
The state has had several longtime allowable reasons voters could cite on an absentee ballot application for why they were unable to vote in person:
- Active service in the Armed Forces of the United States
- Being out of town where the voter is registered
- Religious reasons
- Working as an election official at a polling place other than their own during voting hours
- Physical disability
In 2021, while the state did not automatically mail applications to all voters again, any registered voter who still had concerns about the COVID virus was also able to apply for an absentee ballot.
But in 2022, does COVID avoidance still count as an acceptable reason to apply for an absentee ballot? The short answer is yes. In fact, last April, Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation that expanded those existing reasons so that anyone who commutes out-of-state for work or takes care of someone ill or disabled can apply to vote by absentee ballot.
According to CT Secretary of State Mark Kohler, it also covers the presence of sickness in the community: “This includes voters who are unable to go to their polling place because of a sickness or physical disability of another person, or because of the continued presence of a sickness, such as the COVID-19 virus.”
Absentee Ballots as Political Strategy
Voting officials are anticipating higher numbers of absentee ballots for the 2022 election, and not just because of COVID fears and legislative changes. Another factor in the rise is the way political parties have increasingly made absentee voting part of their strategy.
Some candidates and political parties mailed applications to Wilton residents early in the campaign season.
Town Clerk Lori Kabak maintains a log of any requests for absentee ballot applications made by someone on behalf of another Wilton voter or voters. According to that log, the following members of political parties or organizations requested applications:
- Peter Wrampe, Wilton Republican Town Committee (RTC) chair: 250
- Damon Rinard, Wilton Democratic Town Committee (DTC) member: 554
- Sean Morrocco, Ned Lamont‘s campaign: 2,632
- Ben Proto, State Republican Party chair: 1,400
- Peter Wrampe, Wilton Republican Town Committee chair: 4,000 (second request)
- Tim Bergin, State Democratic Party: 848
Tom Dubin, the Wilton DTC chair, said the 554 applications they requested were sent to college-aged voters.
“We did a run of Democrats of a certain age who we suspect will be away at college and maybe some unaffiliated [voters] who were the same age, who appeared to be living in Democratic households,” he said. “We hope that as many people as possible will vote regardless of who they’re voting for. So we certainly want to make certain that college-age voters have an easy opportunity to cast votes.”
Republican officials have traditionally been less supportive of voting by absentee ballot, especially when it comes to no-excuse absentee ballot voting. Nationally, the party has backed more stringent requirements for absentee voting altogether.
But Peter Wrampe, chair of the Wilton RTC, said this year that voting absentee is something his party is encouraging voters who can’t get to the polls to do.
“Yes, we sent AB applications to selected voters to meet their potential needs and encourage them to vote,” he wrote in a statement to GMW. “We know some voters are busy traveling for work, cannot leave their homes, or can legally vote by absentee ballot for other reasons. We hope that these Wiltonians will either vote in person in town hall before Election Day, if they are able, or vote absentee if they are not.”
He declined to comment further on how many of the 4,250 applications he requested were actually sent to voters, or to whom the applications were sent.
Dubin looked at his political opponent’s strategic approach this way: “We think it is great that both parties are spending the time and resource to make casting a ballot easier for their voters. That is particularly true for college-aged voters who might not be in Connecticut on Election Day. We hope this embrace of absentee balloting means there will be bi-partisan support for the early voting referendum on this year’s ballot.”
Kaback added that for the parties to send out so many absentee ballot applications is “unusual,” at least for Wilton elections. “I haven’t seen this since Linda McMahon ran [for senator in 2010]. She really started this.”
Absentee ballots became available on Oct. 7. By the third day of processing submitted applications, Kaback said she’d already mailed out 353 absentee ballots, a number she considered “higher than normal — but it’s still early.” That number has since doubled as of this morning, to 759.
She added that fulfilling absentee ballot applications is the most time-consuming function for her staff leading up to the general election.
“Obviously, there’s concern that we’re gonna get slammed, but it’s just a waiting game to see,” she said.
How to Vote by Absentee Ballot
For anyone who wants to vote by absentee ballot but doesn’t already have an application, there are several ways to obtain one:
- Visit the CT Secretary of State website (in English or Spanish) to print out an application
- Pick up a hard copy at the Town Clerk’s office (238 Danbury Rd.)
- The state now allows voters to complete an application online.
Return completed absentee ballot applications to the Town Clerk:
- in person (238 Danbury Rd.)
- deposit it in the Official Ballot Drop Box in front of the Wilton Police Department (240 Danbury Rd.)
- by mail (283 Danbury Rd., Wilton CT 06897)
- via email or fax (203.263.0130) — Anyone submitting an application via email or fax must also mail the original, completed application with an original signature to the Town Clerk, either separately or with the absentee ballot. Absentee ballots will not be counted without a hard copy application with an original signature. (Kaback emphasized how important this part is for anyone requesting a ballot via email or fax.)
Completed absentee ballots must be received by the Wilton Town Clerk by the close of polls at 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8. They can be submitted in person, through the Ballot Drop Box or by mail. However, anyone mailing in a ballot should be aware that it must be received by the town clerk by the 8 p.m. Election Day deadline for their vote to be counted.
“It doesn’t matter if it comes in and it’s postmarked, it has to be in the office. That’s really important,” Kaback said.
Once you submit your absentee ballot, you can track your ballot online to confirm that the Town Clerk’s office has received it.
Information on the absentee voting process is available on the town website.
Registering to Vote
For residents who are eligible to vote but have not yet registered as a voter, Connecticut offers several ways to register to vote.
- In person at the following places:
- Wilton’s Registrar of Voters office, in Town Hall (238 Danbury Rd.)
- Wilton Social Services Department at Comstock Community Center (180 School Rd.)
- Wilton Library (137 Old Ridgefield Rd.)
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Armed Forces Recruiting Offices
- By mail: Complete a voter application card and mail it to the Registrar of Voters (238 Danbury Rd., Wilton CT 06897)
To be eligible to vote, a person must be:
- A U.S. Citizen
- A resident of Connecticut (to register in Wilton, the voter must be a Wilton resident)
- 18 years old (although anyone who is 17 years old and will turn 18 by Election Day can register)
- Have completed confinement and parole, if previously convicted of a felony
The state of Connecticut has several voter registration deadlines and opportunities.
Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022: All Registrars of Voters’ offices in Connecticut will hold a statewide voter registration session from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m on Nov. 1. This is the last regular session for admission of electors who have turned 18, become a U.S. citizen, or moved to Connecticut before Nov. 1 of this year.
Monday, Nov. 7, 2022: All Registrars of Voters’ offices in Connecticut will hold a statewide voter registration session from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 7. This is the last registration session for admission of electors who have turned 18, become a U.S. citizen, or moved to Connecticut since Nov. 1, 2022. This registration session is also open to members of the Armed Forces, and former Armed Forces members who have been discharged within the calendar year.
Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022: Connecticut allows Election Day Registration. Voters can register on Nov. 8 at Wilton Town Hall (238 Danbury Rd.) from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; bring proof of identity and proof of residence in Wilton (not available for primary voting).
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated to include how many absentee ballots have been sent to voters as of today (Oct. 20).